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The Big Sleep

Raymond Chandler

Chapters 19–21

Chapters 16–18

Chapters 22–24

Summary

Chapter 19

Someone from Eddie Mars's place comes around to see Marlowe, telling the detective that Mars wants to see him. Marlowe refuses to go. He later receives a call from Mars, who tells Marlowe not to tell the police anything about him. As a reward for not telling the police anything, Mars is willing to give Marlowe protection, as well as information that may help Marlowe find Rusty Regan. Although Marlowe claims not to be looking for Regan, he tells Mars that he might go down and see him sometime.

Then Marlowe calls the Sternwood house and gives the butler a message to pass on to Vivian: he has the pictures of Carmen and everything is alright. Marlowe's phone continues to ring incessantly all through the night, but he refuses to pick it up.

Marlowe reads the newspaper accounts of Geiger's murder, which differ substantially from the way the events really occurred. They report, for example, that Owen Taylor definitely committed suicide, and do not link him at all with Geiger's slaying. The papers do not give any credit to Marlowe or Ohls, instead crediting Captain Cronjager for solving the murders himself.

Chapter 20

Marlowe goes to see Captain Gregory of the Missing Persons Bureau. After proving that he knows the D.A., Marlowe asks the Captain for information about Regan. He is trying to found out whether the Missing Persons Bureau is working on Regan's case. Marlowe claims that he is interested because he wants to make sure Regan was not involved in blackmail.

Captain Gregory tells Marlowe that Regan disappeared on September 16 and that his car was found in a private garage four days later. They do not know who placed the car there, as the car is completely devoid of fingerprints. Furthermore, the Captain confirms what Marlow already knows about Regan having apparently left with Mars's wife. The Captain also adds that Regan always carried $15,000 in his pockets. He shows Marlowe a photograph of Regan, who does not, according to Marlowe, have the "face of a tough guy" but also does not have the "face of a man who could be pushed around much by anybody."

Captain Gregory eliminates the possibility that Mars murdered Regan out of jealousy, his reasoning being that such an act would have been too obvious, considering the fact that Mars's wife left with Regan. The Captain contends that Regan and Mona Mars probably left in Mona's wife's car. The Missing Persons Bureau does not have much evidence and, therefore, not much of a case. The Captain says the best thing to do is to wait until Regan and Mrs. Mars run out of money and leave a traceable mark somewhere. He claims that it will probably take a while to find Regan.

The Captain's resignation irritates Marlowe, as his client, General Sternwood, might not live to see the day when Regan is found. After he leaves the office, Marlowe notices that a gray Plymouth sedan is following him. He is, however, able to shake the car off his tail.

Chapter 21

Marlowe receives a call from the Sternwood butler, Norris, who informs him that the General has told him to give Marlowe a check for $500 and to consider the case closed. Marlowe, however, continues to think about Regan after he hangs up the phone. Much like the Captain, Marlowe eliminates the possibility that Eddie Mars was Regan's assassin. Marlowe then begins to review the entire case he has just "closed." He realizes that the "smart" thing to do would be to, indeed, leave the case where he had left it. However, he calls up Mars and tells him he would like to speak to him that evening.

Marlowe arrives at the Cypress Club that night. It is very foggy out. Marlowe begins to talk to Mars, who tells Marlowe that Vivian Regan is out gambling in the casino. Mars thanks Marlowe for not mentioning him to the police and says he is willing to give Marlowe something in return. Marlowe tells Mars that General Sternwood would like to know where Regan is. Again, Marlowe brings in the blackmail angle and Regan's possible ties to it.

The two men continue to talk. Mars brings up Vivian, who is bad business for him because of the way she gambles. Marlowe says he would like to take a look around, and Mars continues to say that perhaps, one of these days, he will be able to repay Marlowe for not telling the police about him—that one day he will be able to do Marlowe "a real favor." Before he departs, Marlowe asks Mars if he has anybody following him in a gray Plymouth sedan. Mars says he has not, but he looks surprised.

Analysis

In the inaccurate, sensationalistic newspaper reports we see that, in Chandler's Los Angeles, even the law and the journalists work crime to their advantage. This additional facet of Chandler's social criticism further highlights the contrast between Marlowe and the law and the rest of Los Angeles. Nonetheless, Marlowe can be seen as corrupt in some ways: "I had concealed a murder and suppressed evidence for twenty-four hours, but I was still at large and had a five-hundred-dollar check coming. The smart thing for me to do was to take another drink and forget the whole mess." Indeed, Marlowe appears corrupt in many ways: he has gone against the law and is taking money for it, a greater sum than he has expected. However, Marlowe, unlike the law, cannot simply forget, as he feels a need to seek out truth and to deliver a job well done for his client, Sternwood. Nevertheless, we must question what differentiates the newspapers' cover-up from Marlowe's continual refusal to bring the Sternwood name to its proper place in the events that have transpired. Marlowe appears to have certain obligations, and picks and chooses which to fulfill among them. Ultimately, he chooses to be faithful to his client above the law.

In this section we also see Marlowe stand up to Mars in a way he has not done before. We might say that, at this point, Mars still has control because he has succeeded in convincing Marlowe to keep Mars's name out of the police investigation. However, we sense that it may also be possible that Mars only thinks he has Marlowe under his wing.

By this point in the novel we know how to read certain cues Chandler provides. First, we know that the fog in the air on the night Marlowe visits the Cypress Club forebodes something. The fact that the fog is linked to the scene with Mars makes us feel uneasy about Mars and about what might transpire behind his walls. Furthermore, we have learned to read the reactions of the characters just as Chandler would like us to. Therefore, when Mars reacts with surprise—when he seems "jarred"—at the mention of the Plymouth, we know to expect something to come out of that surprise in future chapters.

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