The Big Sleep | Study Guide

Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep | Chapter 16 | Summary

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Summary

Marlowe examines the window Carmen broke, then her gun. Its engraving reads "Carmen from Owen." He then quizzes Brody about his blackmail racket. Brody admits to being broke and also explains the procedure he followed to ensure no one traced Geiger's pornographic books, now in storage.

When Marlowe presses Brody to tell him where he got the photo of Carmen, Brody insists Marlowe will have to pay for the information. Marlowe tells Brody he's not being smart and suggests Brody might be charged with two murders. Brody starts to quiz him about the murders, and Marlowe quizzes him in return, trying to pin down what Brody was doing the night before. Brody tells a story about watching Geiger's house, suspicious of Geiger's activities. He determined Vivian Regan's Buick was there and finally admits following Owen Taylor who ran out of the house and sped off. When the Buick skidded, Brody, pretending to be a cop, approached Taylor and knocked him unconscious. Brody searched Taylor and found the picture of Carmen. Brody denies doing anything to Geiger or moving the body.

Someone starts buzzing Brody again. As soon as Brody opens the door part way, the visitor shoots him twice. Marlowe runs after the shooter. Once they are on the street, the man turns and fires at Marlowe and then runs away. Marlowe gets into his car, drives a short distance, parks, gets out, and waits for the shooter, unaware he is being followed. When Marlowe approaches him—"Got a match, buddy?"—the shooter spins around, and Marlowe sees "a very handsome boy indeed, the boy from Geiger's store."

Marlowe holds a gun on him and quizzes him. The man answers angrily and obscenely. Marlowe eventually makes him get into the car and drives them to Laverne Terrace. As they drive, Marlowe tells the man, whose name is Carol Lundgren, "You shot the wrong guy, Carol. Joe Brody didn't kill your queen."

Analysis

That Owen Taylor, the Sternwoods' late chauffeur, gave a gun to Carmen is a clear indication of how involved they were and how long Carmen has been manipulating the men in her life to dangerous ends. However, while this clue may be clear, much of what else happens in the novel serves primarily to complicate the situation. Marlowe has already encountered third-party involvement when someone moved Geiger's body. Now another third party is involved in Brody's death. This situation makes the case markedly more challenging because someone other than a known gangster, with a motive, is involved. And what happens next complicates the plot still further.

When Brody gets shot, Marlowe reacts instantaneously—and instinctively. He goes after the shooter even though he is not a police officer and thus puts himself at great risk. It is the action of a moral modern hero, whose sense of right runs deep in his character. Marlowe balances instinct with another dose of savvy planning; getting ahead of the shooter means he can face the man when he—Marlowe—is ready and has the advantage. Interesting to note is Marlowe has figured out and reveals the relationship between Geiger and Carol Lundgren, whose name is ambiguous but was used occasionally as a man's name at the time.

The killer's language is worth noting, too. The language distinguishes Lundgren as nasty and inarticulate despite his good looks. For all the adult subject matter in the story, Chandler avoids obscenities, although it is clear what he means when using expressions like "Go—yourself." Avoiding obscenities was a convention of the time, in part because it opened writers to charges of obscenity and complicated the sales of their novels. Nor, as readers may notice, does Marlowe himself actually use any. He talks tough, he's sarcastic, he can be offensive, but he does not use profanity.

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