The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ohls stands in Geiger’s house, looking at Lundgren. They don’t need a confession from the boy, Marlowe tells the chief investigator, as the private detective has Lundgren’s gun.
Ohls stands in the crime scene with Marlowe as the latter offers the details on the entire web of illegal activities that branch out from that central moment.
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Ohls tells Marlowe they will all have to drive over to District Attorney Taggart Wilde’s place. The chief investigator adds he’s glad he doesn’t have to arrest Owen Taylor for killing Geiger. Ohls grabs Lundgren and looks at him with distaste as he puts the boy into his car.
Similarly to Marlowe, Ohls expresses sympathy for Owen, even implying him killing Geiger was not necessarily an immoral act. Yet Ohls looks at Lundgren with distaste, despite the fact his victim was also a criminal. As such, it is Lundgren’s sexuality that disgusts Ohls and Marlowe, rather than him committing murder. Killing has become commonplace in the city, but these men cannot accept nonconformance to gender roles.
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Marlowe follows in his car as they drive to Wilde’s house. The house is white framed and traditional. Wilde is clearly from a well-known and wealthy family. There are two vehicles there already.
Wilde’s large and traditional house marks him out as being from a wealthy social circle. But as Chandler has shown with the Sternwoods, this does not mean Wilde is morally upstanding.
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The group is led through a large, well-furnished house, to a study. Inside, Wilde is smoking a cigar and drinking coffee as “cold-eyed” Captain Cronjager looks at the group. Ohls introduces the captain and Marlowe.
Wilde relaxes at his ease in his home, as the men from the city’s frontline report back to him. Like Sternwood and Marlowe’s relationship, Wilde draws on lower ranking officials to do the hard work. 
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Ohls asks Cronjager how he’s progressing on finding Joe Brody’s murderer. The police have picked up Agnes, and the two unfired guns in the apartment, but nothing else. When Ohls pushes, Cronjager says they also have a description of the murderer.
Ohls knows that Cronjager must have nothing, as he has the suspect in his own car. As such, this question is disingenuous, serving to set up Ohls’ own dramatic revelation and show up Cronjager.
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Ohls tells Cronjager he has the suspect in his car right outside, and puts the gun on the desk. Wilde finds this amusing. Ohls adds there are two more deaths involved, asking if Cronjager has heard of the car found in the sea that morning. Cronjager admits he hasn’t, with a sour look.
With glee, Ohls offers his revelation, with a predictable response from Cronjager. Perhaps unpredictable is Wilde’s approval of this competition between policemen. It seems he is aware of the police’s wider lack of cohesion and mutual support.
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Helping Cronjager catch up on the situation, Ohls explains the dead man was a driver for a wealthy family who were being blackmailed, and who had called Marlowe in to help on Wilde’s recommendation. Cronjager dislikes the fact Marlowe has not kept the police up to date on circumstances.
Again predictably, Cronjager voices displeasure that Marlowe had kept the police out of the loop. Cronjager has some right to be displeased, as Marlowe was acting in his client’s interest, and to protect his own safety and income, rather than following the letter of the law.
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Ohls explains further that the dead man (Owen Taylor) had killed Geiger the night before. Lundgren, the boy in Ohls’s car outside, had lived with Geiger. At this point, Ohls offers the stage to Marlowe, to explain the rest of the story.
Ohls narrates the interweaving tale of various characters’ illegal and questionable acts. Marlowe, who has been caught up in this web for the past two days, steps in to provide the finer details. The complexity of the story reflects the depths of the city’s moral decay.
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Marlowe tells the room of policeman everything that had happened, apart from Carmen threatening Joe Brody and Eddie Mars showing up at Geiger’s house.
Marlowe decides to keep two non-crucial aspects of the story to himself, for reasons that benefit himself and his client, as he later reflects.
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Cronjager accuses Marlowe of allowing Joe Brody’s murder to take place by not telling the police about Geiger’s murder earlier. Marlowe defends himself by saying he could not have guessed that Lundgren would go after Brody. Cronjager replies that that’s the police’s decision, as “a life is a life.” Marlowe mocks this assertion, suggesting the police have no such values.
Cronjager’s objection is valid, as Marlowe had not reported the crime as he legally ought to have. Yet Marlowe’s assertion that the police do not follow their own moral code undercuts Cronjager’s suggestion that the rule of law is effective, or even a positive force, in the city.
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Wilde interjects, stopping the argument. He demands Marlowe explain why he’s so sure of his story. Marlowe asserts that Joe Brody doesn’t seem the killing “type,” while Taylor had motive to kill Geiger, as he loved Carmen.
Familiar with the complexity of the city’s criminal world, Wilde challenges Marlowe’s version of events, which seems too simple. Wilde knows that such criminals could commit any number of wicked acts. 
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Cronjager asks why Lundgren would have hidden the body. Marlowe suggests it would have given the boy time to pack and leave, though he later regretted it and placed his friend in a better resting place. Wilde agrees. Marlowe adds Lundgren probably later tailed the books to Joe Brody, and assumed Brody killed Geiger to get his racket.
Lundgren assumed the worst of Brody, leading him to make a terrible mistake. Yet, it seems Lundgren, for one, was not driven by survival but by grief. Only those who unwaveringly ensure their own survival will remain unscathed in this dog eat dog environment.
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Marlowe puts all the evidence on the table: Geiger’s blackmail letter, Carmen’s photos, and Geiger’s blue notebook. Looking at Geiger’s note, Wilde opines that Geiger was probably seeing if General Sternwood was scared. If the General paid up, Geiger would have begun to really work him.
The evidence on the table represents the many, imaginative forms of decadence and depravity exhibited among L.A.’s residents. What is more, these are only reference points, as the full story lies much deeper, such as Geiger’s blackmailing attempt being a test of Sternwood’s resolve.
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Wilde asks Marlowe if he has told the full truth. Marlowe admits he has left out some personal details on behalf of his client, and expects the Sternwoods’ names to be left out of the write up. Cronjager cries “Hah!” and Wilde asks Marlowe why.
Marlowe admits to acting in others’ interests, and Cronjager’s knowing “snort” in part displays his surprise Marlowe openly admitted to holding back nonessential information for his own reasons.
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Marlowe gets the pornography book from his car and shows the policemen. Marlowe says the police “allowed” Geiger’s illegal shop to operate in plain sight, which would be embarrassing for the police if the whole story came to light. Cronjager takes that moment to leave, and Ohls follows him to hand over Lundgren.
In response to Wilde’s question, but also to rebuff Cronjager’s triumphant shout, Marlowe points out that the city police overlook their own duties when it suits them, so Cronjager cannot act morally superior. Cronjager doesn’t try to, and leaves. 
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Wilde offers soothing words to Marlowe, excusing Cronjager’s anger. The district attorney tells Marlowe he’ll need to write statements, and asks why the private detective is so comfortable with turning the police against him.
Left alone with the District Attorney, Marlowe seems to have won the exchange with Cronjager. Marlowe’s cynical attitude toward the police has challenged Cronjager’s lax policing, to which the captain cannot respond.
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Marlowe explains he’s working a case, and must protect his client, as he is trying to make an honest living with the skills he has. He says he doesn’t regret the “cover-up” because police do the same every day for their “friends.”
Marlowe distances himself from the police’s methods, as the detective openly works for his clients, whereas the police claim to serve the public but really serve whoever pays the most. At least Marlowe is honest about his cover ups.
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Wilde tells Marlowe that his father was good friends with General Sternwood, and Wilde himself has often done much to help the “old man,” but his daughters (Carmen and Mrs. Regan) are wild and it’s their father’s fault. Wilde adds the General is likely worried his missing son-in-law, Rusty Regan, is somehow involved in blackmailing him.
Wilde admits to offering his friends favors, as his assistance to General Sternwood has artificially preserved the rich family’s respectability. This example shows how the wealthy use their connections to maintain their social positions. Yet Wilde says Sternwood is at fault for his daughters’ misbehavior, a parallel example to how the authorities’ mismanagement of the city has led to its moral decay.
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Marlowe explains that the General had bonded with Rusty and simply wishes to know he is well. That changes Wilde’s demeanor. Wilde hands the nude photos and Geiger’s blackmail note back to Marlowe.
Wilde gives Marlowe back the evidence that would connect the Sternwood family with the murders of Geiger and Brody. The District Attorney has decided once again to protect his friend, despite the escalating immorality tied to that family’s name. 
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