The Big Sleep Book Cover

The Big Sleep

Raymond Chandler

Private investigator Phillip Marlowe is hired by the wealthy Sternwoods to handle a blackmail attempt but drama soon escalates as more mysteries are uncovered.

Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.

In 1930s Los Angeles, Philip Marlowe, a private investigator, visits the house of General Sternwood for a job enquiry. Sternwood informs him that his daughter is being blackmailed and he would like Marlowe to resolve the matter. During their brief meeting Sternwood also mentions that his son-in-law, Rusty Reagan, has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Marlowe follows the complicated woven trail, crossed with a sequence of murders, to uncover the truth.

A heavy-hitter in the crime genre, Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep set a new bar for detective novels, with many of its successors copying elements of Chandler’s writing. Chandler’s short snappy writing keeps the pace of the novel, building suspense as he concocts a plot full of twists and reveals. Chandler’s mastery as a founding father of the noir genre is prominent in his magnum opus. With scenic descriptions and the (at times) whimsy Philip Marlowe at the helm, this is a novel that is sure to delight.

Do you think that Chandler was trying to convey a mood through his descriptions of the Los Angeles weather?

How does Phillip Marlowe compare to other detectives of this genre? Is he part of the norm?

How are women portrayed in the novel?

The novel touches on topics of pornography, sexuality and mental illness. How do you think these would have been received at the time of publication, in 1939?

Do you think the plot is clear or do you think some parts are still steeped in mystery?

Why do you think the character of Carmen isn’t brought to justice at the end of the novel? Do you think that she has ‘health issues’?

Do you think that The Big Sleep still resonates with modern society?

Very little is known of Rusty Reagan. What effect does this have on the reader?

What do you think Marlowe’s reasons are for maintaining the secret about Carmen and Rusty?

Despite their wealth, the Sternwood Family appears dysfunctional and wracked in turmoil. Do you think Chandler was trying to convey a political statement through the associations of money with crime, secrets and strife?

Are there any positives to the Sternwood Family dynamic?


It is revealed that the missing Mona Mars is living outside the city, guarded by Eddie Mars’ gunman Canino. Marlowe visits the mechanic’s garage where Mona is in hiding. Upon arrival, he fakes having a tire blow-out to gain entry. Canino realises something is off. A shoot-out ensues and Canino is fatally wounded. Mrs Mars reveals that she never ran away with Rusty and that it was all a rouse set up by her husband, not knowing the true whereabouts of Rusty. Returning to the Sternwoods, Carmen wants to go shooting with Marlowe. They go somewhere secluded and she turns the gun on him, not knowing it is filled with blanks. Marlowe laughs as Carmen goes into an epileptic fit brought on by anger. Marlowe figures out that the cover-up was instigated by Eddie Mars and Vivian, deducing that Rusty was shot by Carmen who felt scorned after he refused her advances. Marlowe agrees to keep the truth to himself.

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