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Marlowe drives to Geiger's bookshop to observe and see what kind of "business" goes on there. An attractive woman in a black dress, who walks "with a certain something [not] often seen in bookstores," greets Marlowe. He asks her several questions about a couple of first editions—which he has just researched at the public library—in order to test the woman's knowledge of rare books. The woman claims that the shop does not have what Marlowe is looking for.
Marlowe says he will wait for Geiger to come into the store, under the guise that perhaps Geiger may know a little more about the books Marlowe claims to be seeking. Marlowe sits down, waits, and observes, smoking a cigarette. He sees a man entering and leaving the back room with a wrapped package shaped like a book, but doing so with an air of mystery and suspicion. When the man with the parcel is about to leave, Marlowe gets up and proceeds to follow him. The man tries to lose Marlowe, but instead decides to play it safe and get rid of the incriminating package he is carrying. Marlowe picks up the wrapped book that the man has abandoned by tree. Thunder is still sounding outside.
Marlowe continues to collect clues. He goes to a phone booth to find Geiger's home phone number. He calls, but no one answers. It also dawns upon Marlowe to look for other bookstores in the area of Geiger's store. He finds a small place nearby and shows his detective badge to the woman at the front desk. Marlowe asks her the same questions he asked the girl at Geiger's shop—this woman, however, knows the answers and responds to one of his trick questions in a way that only someone who ran a real bookstore could. Marlowe tells the woman that the girl at Geiger's store could not answer the questions and did not pick up on his trick. Marlowe uses this evidence, along with his guile, to get a full description of Geiger from the woman.
On his way out of the bookstore Marlowe opens the package he has been carrying with him. He finds exactly what he knew he would: "smut." The nature of Geiger's racket is clear: he runs a lending library of pornography from the back room of his store, fronting the operation as a rare bookstore.
Marlowe continues to watch Geiger's store until a man meeting the description of Geiger enters. When Geiger leaves, Marlowe follows the man's car all the way to his house. As Marlowe watches the house, he sees a white car pull up and park in the driveway. A young woman gets out and enters Geiger's house. After she has gone inside, Marlowe checks the white car's registration and finds that it belongs to Carmen Sternwood.
A while later, having observed the house through the night, Marlowe sees a flash go off inside the house. He then hears a scream—one of shock more so than fear. As Marlowe approaches the house to see what is happening, he hears three gunshots and then footsteps coming from the house—the footsteps of someone escaping. Marlowe finally makes his way into the house through the window and sees that there are two people inside: "Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead."
These three chapters primarily advance the plot and continue to establish tone. We learn that Geiger is running an illegal pornography business, that there is something going on between Geiger and Carmen Sternwood, and that one of the people that has been in Geiger's house has been shot.
Nevertheless, these chapters also contribute to the nature of the characters in the novel, and touch on recurring themes such as Chandler's treatment of women. It is here that we begin to recognize the "type" of woman that Chandler and his narrator, Marlowe, portray. The dangerous power of seduction exemplified by sexy store clerks and seemingly childish wild women brings into question the issue of power in The Big Sleep and how that power relates to women. The scenarios that appear here cause us to ask whether the seeming power that women have in the book is not, deep down, actually a kind of weakness. Marlowe continues to engage in snappy and flirtatious repartee with women, most notably in his conversation with the attractive bookseller across the street from Geiger's shop. The edgy and double-entendre-laden style of writing consistently supports the mood. The bookstore girl reacts as most women seem to react to Marlowe, with magnetism, flirtation, and attraction: "You interest me. Rather vaguely," she says. He responds, with a businesslike but suggestive "I'm a private dick on a case
" The implied sensuality builds and reinforces the world Chandler has created, the world that would expand onto the big screen and would later connect him with the film noir of the 1940s and 1950s.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Big Sleep!