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The Big Sleep | Chapter 14 | Summary

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Summary

Marlowe goes to the apartment building where Geiger's books were unloaded and rings Joe Brody's doorbell. Brody doesn't react when Marlowe asks about Geiger. After Brody denies knowing Geiger, Marlowe presses on: "You got the books, Joe. I got the sucker list. We ought to talk things over." Brody invites him in and then pulls a gun. Marlowe doesn't panic, and doesn't react at the sight of a slipper sticking out from under a curtain. When Marlowe tells Brody he made a mistake in how he stole Geiger's books, Brody turns the gun away, resting it on his knee. He then calls Agnes to join them, and the blond woman from Geiger's bookstore steps out from behind the curtain.

Marlowe explains the situation as he sees it, and Agnes gets angry with him, confirming she "knew damn well you were trouble" and "told Joe to watch his step." She denies Geiger ran a pornography racket, but Brody tells her to shut up, for he likes Marlowe's suggestion the whole racket could be his. Brody denies killing Geiger, but Marlowe says he might be charged with it, and he has a witness who will swear it was Brody. Brody gets angry, and Marlowe suggests Brody has nude pictures of this witness. At first he denies having them but then insists on being paid for them. Marlowe refuses, saying he knows what happened at Geiger's house. If Brody gives him the pictures, he might be able to get Carmen not to testify against Brody. Brody admits Carmen hates him because he was paid to dump her, which he would have done anyway because "she's too screwy for a simple guy like me." As Brody is about to agree, the doorbell rings.

Analysis

Throughout the novel Chandler characterizes Marlowe and several other characters as much by what they don't do as by what they do. Nothing changes in Brody's face when Marlowe introduces the name Geiger, and Marlowe can even tell Brody learned to control his expressions a long time ago. Nothing changes in Marlowe's face or voice when he sees a slipper sticking out from under the curtain or when Brody points a gun on him. This is one of several ways Chandler divides the characters in his world: the experienced characters have been through situations that taught them self-control. Mastery over his emotions may be one of the reasons Marlowe mouths off the way he does: he's trying to provoke people less adept than him so they let something slip.

This chapter continues to extend and deepen Marlowe's involvement in the case. Early on he was going to resolve a blackmail attempt. Now he is actively threatening blackmail himself and threatening criminal prosecution for something that might not be true. Because Carmen's reliability and commitment are dubious, Marlowe may just be lying about her willingness to testify—or he may be willing to get her to perjure herself. Readers who know Marlowe already, however, will have trouble believing he would be guilty of either act and will realize lies and threats are his way of dealing with "bad guys." He is as comfortable playing a role as they are in their authentic characters.

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