The Big Sleep | Study Guide

Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep | Chapter 11 | Summary



Vivian Regan is waiting in Marlowe's office. After some brief verbal sparring, Marlowe reveals he knows about Owen Taylor's death. They talk briefly about the dead man's role in the family. She then takes out an envelope containing a naked picture of Carmen at Geiger's house, as Marlowe saw her the night of Geiger's murder. The envelope came with a blackmail demand: five thousand dollars. The blackmailer added Carmen is mixed up in a police matter. In response to Marlowe's questions, Vivian says Carmen stayed at home the previous night because of illness, but she (Vivian) was out gambling. Marlowe agrees to investigate the blackmail. Vivian doesn't have the money to pay the blackmail unless she borrows it, her best source being Eddie Mars. She has been "a good customer," gambling at Eddie's club, and "Eddie's blonde wife is the lady Rusty ran away with."

Marlowe says he's not looking for Regan—revealing he knows Vivian has been trying to find this out. The two flirt, and she leaves. Marlowe then calls Ohls for an update, and Ohls confirms Vivian Regan was gambling at Mars's club. After the phone call Marlowe searches in three more newspapers for news of Geiger's death but finds nothing. He tries the coded notebook again but gets nowhere.


The case continues to deepen and become more complicated. Carmen's earlier gambling debts are not in themselves particularly scandalous: they are simply unpaid and perhaps somewhat embarrassing. Pornographic pictures, however, raise the stakes of the case, and the suggestion Carmen is involved in an actual crime raises them still higher.

The case also continues to change regarding Marlowe, through Vivian's involvement and through the way she prods to find out what is happening. Her questions about Marlowe's tasks and whether he is searching for her husband remind him, and readers, Rusty Regan is missing. The revelation he ran off with Eddie Mars's wife is suspicious, being that it comes from Vivian, whose word is questionable.

The lack of news about Geiger in the three newspapers Marlowe reads indicates the gap between public and private reality in his world. It is a sign of the corruption in his community, equal to Vivian's comment about Owen Taylor's prison sentence: "He didn't know the right people. That's all a police record means in this rotten crime-ridden country." And it is a sign of how badly people need a "knight" like Marlowe who can read the clues to see what is actually happening. Significantly he spends more time on the coded notebook but is unable to crack the code. As he says later in the novel, he's not Sherlock Holmes. He's better at dealing with people than clues.

Again Marlowe's office reinforces his character. Like his office, he is a no-frills kind of person, comfortable with bare essentials—"the faded red settee, the two odd semi-easy chairs, the net curtains that needed laundering and the boy's size library table with the venerable magazines on it to give the place a professional touch." He defends his surroundings—and by extension his character—claiming one "can't make much money at this trade, if you're honest. If you have a front, you're making money—or expect to." Marlowe, despite the rich client, has no expectations and admits to being "painfully" honest. He does, however, keep whiskey locked in a deep drawer—another bare essential for a hard-boiled detective.

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