The Big Sleep | Study Guide

Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep | Chapter 29 | Summary



As Marlowe moves through the darkness, still in handcuffs, he thinks Canino is likely to kill Mars's wife. He makes it back to his car and takes the other gun from the hidden compartment. Headlights from a car turning off the highway nearly expose him, but he reaches Canino's car safely. The keys are inside. He goes on to the house, throws some gravel against the window, and then runs back to the car, getting in, starting it, then getting out. Canino needs the car, so the sound of the engine jars him into action, and he shoots three times. Marlowe groans as though he has been hit and then lets the sound trail off. Canino laughs. The door opens, and Mars's wife comes out. She says she can't see anything, and Canino comes out himself. She then screams she can see Marlowe, and Canino fires three more times. Marlowe comes up behind him. As Canino spins around, Marlowe shoots him four times, "the Colt straining against [his] ribs." He falls and dies. Mona Mars takes the key from Canino's body and unlocks the handcuffs, freeing Marlowe.


Although he is at extreme risk himself—alone, in the rain, handcuffed, a known killer after him—Marlowe proves his knightly credentials by thinking about Mars's wife. Like the knight on the Sternwoods' stained glass he is obligated to help the woman in distress, even if, as in this case, she got herself into the trouble. Yet she is genuinely in distress, in extreme danger in fact, unlike the annoying situations into which the petulant and corrupt Carmen Sternwood finds herself.

Marlowe demonstrates his skill at pragmatic deception by luring Canino out, first with the gravel thrown against the window and then through the elaborate sequence of fake groans. Mona Mars adeptly plays along as though the scene were rehearsed. Canino may be vicious and deadly, but his inability to see through Marlowe's deception gets him killed, as does his inability to realize Mona Mars is capable of independent action. In the world of good guys and bad guys, guns and fearlessness won't help when someone equally armed and fearless can outsmart another. In this situation unspoken communication between Mona Mars and Marlowe saves his life and most likely hers. Canino's brawn is not a match for the others' brains.

The women in this novel tend to be of dubious character: they are grifters, drug users, killers. However, Mona Mars shows women can act honorably, and by having her unlock Marlowe at the end of the chapter, after letting him go in the previous chapter, Chandler indicates women too can act in a knightly fashion and save a man in distress. That she is clever enough to follow his lead in deceiving Canino speaks for her intelligence as well.

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