The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At the Missing Persons Bureau, Captain Gregory is considering Marlowe, who sits across a desk from him. Marlowe is asking the Captain for help on behalf of General Sternwood, but isn’t being specific about what he is working on. Seeing the Captain’s frustration, Marlowe makes a move as if to leave.
In his typically evasive approach to personal interaction, Marlowe allows Gregory’s assumptions to run unchecked, as Marlowe wants to see what the Captain knows. The Captain does not appreciate this treatment. 
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Gregory asks if Marlowe knows District Attorney Wilde. Marlowe explains he’s an ex-cop who used to work for Wilde, and knows Ohls well. Gregory calls Ohls’s office and confirms this, and asks for a physical description of Marlowe.
Too used to the unwholesome characters in this city, Gregory calls Ohls to make sure Marlowe is who he claims he is.
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Looking back at Marlowe, Gregory asks if he’s after information on Rusty Regan. Marlowe replies “sure.” Gregory thinks General Sternwood should let the matter rest rather than get Marlowe involved, but the private detective explains that the General was friendly with Rusty. Marlowe adds that he wants to make sure Rusty isn’t involved in the blackmailing venture.
With Ohls’s recommendation in hand, Marlowe’s play gains him ground, as Gregory jumps right into admitting there is an open case on Regan’s disappearance. Marlowe offers some small details of truth to further cement Gregory’s trust, to encourage the Captain to open up more.
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Gregory tells Marlowe that Rusty is missing and won’t be found. The Captain then asks an assistant to get Rusty’s file. Flicking through the file, Gregory offers Marlowe the keys facts: Rusty went off in his car but no one saw him leave. The car was later found in a private garage, Eddie Mars’s wife’s garage. It seems they disappeared around the same time.
Gregory offers the details of the case to Marlowe now without hesitation, as the detective has won his confidence. The Captain is pessimistic about the hopes of ever finding Rusty, knowing how well criminals can hide from the system, for a time at least.
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The Captain explains that Rusty was rich in his own right and didn’t need money from the Sternwoods. Rusty was a former alcohol smuggler during Prohibition, and kept $15,000 on him at all times. Gregory doesn’t think Rusty was killed for the money though—he was too tough.
Chandler again emphasizes that Rusty is a high-level criminal, a distinction that largely rests on the fact that he was financially successful. Yet, different from the likes of Eddie Mars, it is Rusty’s own toughness that protects him, rather than his connections.
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Marlowe asks for a photo of Eddie Mars’s wife, but the police don’t have one. Gregory offers Marlowe a picture of Rusty instead. Gregory explains they questioned Eddie Mars at the time of their disappearance and don’t think he killed off Rusty in jealousy over an affair with Mars’s wife. Gregory explains that Mars is too smart for that, and even a successful double bluff would make his life too hard with the cops keeping an eye on him.
Smart, successful criminals do not kill out of emotion, a failure that led to Carol Lundgren’s botched revenge and imprisonment, as well as Owen Taylor’s suicide. Instead, the likes of Eddie Mars are cool and calculated, accepting a personal slight as a matter of business, if the risk of retaliating is too high and the payout too low.
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Gregory’s theory is Mars’s wife and Regan ran off together, as they never found her car. As such, he says the best course of action is to wait until they reveal themselves. The Captain also explains that they can’t get photos of Mars’s wife from Eddie because he wants his wife to be left alone; Mars has too many friends in town for the police to pressure him too hard.
Eddie Mars is a well-connected racketeer with friends in high places. This network of contacts keeps him safe from unwanted pressure or attention from the police. As such, it is hard to imagine such a well-protected criminal being bullied into any course of action he did not agree with.
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The Captain considers Marlowe a little more, and asks if he really thinks Eddie Mars killed both his own wife (Mona) and Rusty. Marlowe agrees with Gregory that the two missing people likely ran away together.
Whether Marlowe is telling the truth is debatable. He could just be reassuring Gregory. After all, the detective tends to avoid the direct truth and certainly expects the worst of everyone he meets.
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As Marlowe leaves the office and drives away, a “gray Plymouth sedan” follows him. The detective leaves an opportunity for the driver to talk to him, but the mysterious tailer doesn’t take the opportunity, so Marlowe drives off and loses the car.
A confident tailer himself, Marlowe wants to know what this new adversary wants. Marlowe’s total control of the situation contributes to his masculine portrayal.
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