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The Big Sleep | Study Guide

Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep | Chapter 5 | Summary



Marlowe goes to a pay phone and tries to call Geiger's store. No one answers. In the directory he finds other bookstores within a few blocks. He visits one, rejects it, and tries the second, which stocks rare and old books. He asks a woman who works there about Geiger's store. When she denies knowing anything about it, he insists she does, and she curls her lip in response. As he presses her for a description, she deduces Marlowe is investigating Geiger. He tests her, asking for the same book he asked for at Geiger's. She checks and immediately tells him "There isn't one," and he shares the fact the woman at Geiger's had not known this. She then provides Marlowe with a physical description of Geiger. Returning to his car he opens the parcel he picked up earlier: it is pornography done in an artistic style.


This chapter develops Marlowe's method of investigation more fully. He does not depend only on his own instincts, although these definitely indicate something wrong at Geiger's. He makes a point of checking his conclusions against another bookstore. He asks the same sort of questions, using the established bookstore as a kind of control or gauge for Geiger's. He is in fact using a pragmatic application of the scientific method. He doesn't stop there: he asks the other bookseller her opinion of Geiger's, enlisting expert testimony to augment his observations. Not only does the bookseller give it, but she confirms something is amiss at the store by concluding Marlowe must be investigating Geiger.

The interaction demonstrates that Marlowe is not unique for his detective skills. Anyone with an understanding of the world and ability to deduce can reason the way he does. Still, something about him makes him special, and the reader is keen to watch his character develop to learn what that something might be.

In turn Marlowe shares information with her. By revealing the woman at Geiger's didn't recognize the book—or its nonexistence—he publicizes the store's duplicitous nature, quietly doing what he can to expose corruption. He recognizes and respects their shared intelligence, much as he did with Vivian, although for different reasons.

This chapter also shows Marlowe's idiosyncratic nature and the value of his first-person narration. His commentary on events can be entertaining, but when it falls silent, readers have no choice but to wait, because they get information no other way. In this case, it means readers must wait through two bookstore visits to learn the package from Geiger's contains pornography.

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