What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that.The Big Sleep
is a 1939 novel by Raymond Chandler
that was made into a film by Howard Hawks
in 1946. Both the original novel and the movie are considered classics.
The convoluted plot follows the investigation by Hardboiled Detective Philip Marlowe
into the gambling debts of young dilettante Carmen Sternwood at the behest of her father, an old, wheelchair-bound millionnaire. However, Carmen's older sister, Vivian Regan, claims that the investigation is really about finding what happened to her husband Terrence 'Rusty' Regan, who has mysteriously disappeared.
The novel contains examples of:
- The Alcoholic: Marlowe is a heavy drinker and frequently takes swigs of booze to revive himself.
- Affably Evil: Eddie Mars.
- Bitter Almonds: A side character is poisoned with cyanide in whisky and dies in the span of a single page. Notably, although the smell is noted, Marlowe calls the cyanide not because of the smell but because the victim vomited.
- Deadpan Snarker: Everyone.
- Depraved Homosexual: The gay Geiger is a pornographer and blackmailer. Part of the plot involves a homosexual relationship gone afoul. Marlowe and the cops see them as disgusting perverts.
- Dumb Blonde: Carmen. It's never explicitly said, but she acts so weirdly childlike that she might be mildly mentally handicapped.
- Empathic Environment: Used frequently in the novel. It's always raining.
- Expy: Philip Marlowe bears a striking resemblance to a detective named Carmady who featured in the short stories Chandler had written for Black Mask magazine. Chandler also recycled incidents from three of those stories into this novel.
- Femme Fatale: Vivian Regan. Eventually it's revealed that she's not really dangerous. She's just trying to protect her father from finding out that his daughter is a murderer and his treasured son-in-law is dead.
- Fille Fatale: Carmen Sternwood, but in personality only. She's actually about 20 years old. She has a tendency to suck her thumb in a suggestive manner while flirting with Marlowe.
- Gentleman Snarker: Marlowe.
- Godiva Hair: The woman tied to the tree in the stained glass window is nude but for "convenient" hair.
- Guys are Slobs: Marlowe's office and home are pretty humble and shabby.
- Hardboiled Detective: Philip Marlowe.
- Icy Blue Eyes: Marlowe frequently notes that the butler's cold blue eyes have a penetrating quality.
- Ignore the Fanservice: Carmen Sternwood turns up naked in Philip Marlowe's bed and tries to seduce him. He admits that his blood is as warm as the next guy's, but staunchly refuses, in part because she's a factor in his investigation, and partly because of the violation he feels in her breaking into his home.
- Informed Attractiveness:
- Various characters tell Marlowe that he's tall and handsome.
- Carmen likes to request confirmation on how cute she is.
- The Jeeves: The General has a very polite, proper and capable butler who still manages to make his opinions known underneath the courtesy.
- Karma Houdini:
- Nothing particularly bad happens to Eddie Mars.
- Carmen Sternwood's only punishment for murder will be going to a mental hospital, though it's only to spare her father the heartbreak.
- Narrative Profanity Filter: A Running Gag after a suspect gets caught. His only words from then on are shown as "Go —— yourself." Marlowe will occasionally narrate that the kid said "his three favorite words" and refers to him as "he of the limited vocabulary." When Marlowe asks a cop if the kid said anything while he was away, the cop quips, "He made a suggestion. I'm letting it ride."
- Never Suicide: Police are initially inclined to treat one of the deaths as a suicide, but a couple of details don't add up. It probably was suicide after all — all the "don't add up" details are subsequently accounted for — but the book never explicitly states who did it, and when Chandler was asked about it in later years he couldn't remember what he'd intended.
- Please Put Some Clothes On: Marlowe has to do this twice to Carmen.
- Posthumous Character: Rusty Regan.
- Pretty in Mink: Vivian has a gray fur coat, and pajamas trimmed with white fur.
- Private Detective: Marlowe, because he wants to make an honest living according to his own code of morality.
- Red Right Hand: Marlowe notes Carmen's small, sharp teeth whenever she starts getting crazy.
- Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: General Sternwood
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Marlowe offers to return the money when he thinks the case hasn't been closed to his satisfaction.
- She's Got Legs: Marlowe spends quite a while talking about Vivian's legs.
- Shown Their Work: Marlowe knows that a blank cartridge fired at close range is still dangerous.
- Title Drop: Near the end, in reference to Mr. Sternwood mercifully dying without knowing that one of his few friends was murdered.
- Yandere: Carmen Sternwood. She killed Rusty Regan and tries to kill Marlow for refusing her advances.