The Big Sleep


Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Marlowe finds the blackmailer Geiger’s bookstore near Las Palmas. East Asian-style screens and antiques obscure the interior from view. Marlowe walks into an elegantly decorated store, with a partition wall and a closed door in the middle of the room. A beautiful blonde assistant (later revealed to be Agnes Lozelle) walks over to see what he wants.
With a foreign aesthetic and an obscured interior, Marlowe decides immediately that Geiger’s store is suspicious. The fake wall in the middle of the room reflects the sham nature of the entire business, with the good-looking assistant merely providing a distraction for this lazily constructed front.
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Marlowe asks if they have certain rare book editions, a question Agnes is unsure how to answer. She suggests Mr. Geiger might be able to help him, but that he will not be in until later on. The detective picks a seat and waits, smoking a cigarette.
Agnes is no bookseller, meaning this is no ordinary bookstore. Marlowe takes an indirect approach when talking with her, waiting to see what information he can uncover before revealing anything about himself.
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After five minutes a customer walks in carrying a package and shows “the blonde” (Agnes) something in his wallet. She presses a button on her desk and the customer walks through the door in the partition. The customer returns after some time, with a different wrapped parcel than before, pays, and leaves the store.
Chandler represents secrets as belonging to an immoral world, as nothing good could be hidden behind that fake wall. Unlike Marlowe, whom Chandler has already established as a morally upright figure, this customer knows how to get past this fake store’s front. This moment foreshadows a later plot twist in which Agnes will be Marlowe’s entry point into another secret.
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Marlowe jumps up and tails the customer. The detective lets the man see him as they wait at a traffic light, and the customer speeds up. Spying Marlowe again a few roads over, the man nearly begins to run. The detective loses sight of the customer momentarily on a “tree-lined street.” After some minutes the customer walks by Marlowe smoking a whistling, without the parcel. Marlowe goes to find the wrapped up package, and leaves with it.
Given that the customer knows the fake store’s secret, Marlowe considers him a lead, and pulls at the thread. This chase marks Marlowe as a competent and experienced detective. His confidence as he tails the customer adds to the commanding masculine image Chandler is building. In turn, the customer knows he is in the wrong, and fears being uncovered, placing him in a position of weakness. As such, Marlowe’s moral rectitude also adds to his powerful masculine characterization.
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