The Big Sleep: Chapter: 19,20

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Marlowe gets home late and lets himself into the locked lobby to find a man waiting for him—one of Mars’s “boys.” The former boxer orders Marlowe to leave with him to see Mars and backs up his order with the threat of shooting, but Marlowe returns the threat, and the man leaves, warning him to expect to hear from Mars. In his apartment, Marlowe cleans Carmen’s gun and is having a drink when Mars calls to ask whether Marlowe mentioned him to the police. Marlowe says that he didn’t, though “I’m damned if I know why.” Mars prompts Marlowe for details on the killer, but Marlowe will say only that Mars doesn’t know the suspect. Mars offers to help Marlowe to come by for information on Regan before he hangs up.

Marlowe calls the Sternwoods and gives Norris a message for Vivian: “Tell her I have the pictures, all of them, and that everything is all right.” Norris’s usually calm voice trembles in gratitude and relief.

The phone rings again, but Marlowe ignores it and goes out for dinner. It’s ringing when he comes back, and it rings repeatedly till after midnight. He doesn’t answer; he “had a bellyful of the Sternwood family already.” In the morning, he reads the accounts of the murders in the papers—none gets the details right, but on the bright side, none mentions the Sternwoods or Marlowe. Cronjager gets credit for solving the murders, which are reported to have been the result of “a dispute over the proceeds for a wire service” Geiger ran out of revenge for his death. Taylor’s death is deemed a suicide since, the story ran, he “had been despondent and in poor health.”


Detectives, police, attorneys, and newspapers—all want to spin the story for their own benefit. Marlowe sarcastically sums up the treatment of the case in the papers: “It gave the impression that Geiger had been killed the night before, that Brody had been killed about an hour later, and that Captain Cronjager had solved both murders while writing a cigarette.” Marlowe’s savvy detecting is of course responsible for the apprehending of the murderers, but he seems not to mind the omission of his name or participation in the case.


Marlowe asks Captain Gregory of the Missing Persons Bureau for help locating Rusty Regan, but Gregory has to be persuaded that Marlowe is on the level, calling Ohls for a reference. Marlowe has to pry every word out of Gregory, who finally gets the file on Terence Regan, but there’s not much in the file. Regan “blew” on September 16th, and because it was the chauffeur’s day off, no one saw him leave. The car was found in a garage at Casa de Oro, “a ritzy bungalow,” four days later, with no useful prints on it. Casa de Oro is the residence of Eddie Mars’s wife, but she’s also gone, with someone who looks like Regan, witnesses say.

Gregorysays that since Regan usually carried a large amount of cash and a gun with him, perhaps he was robbed and killed and his body dumped in the desert. However, Regan “commanded a whole brigade” of Irish revolutionaries, so he can defend himself. Gregory shows Marlowe a photo of Regan, whose face, Marlowe thinks, is “not the face of a man who could be pushed around much by anybody.” Gregory suspects that Mars knows where his wife is but doesn’t seem to care that she might have run off with Regan and that “jealousy is a bad motive for his type,” a successful businessman. Assuming that they’re together, Mars’s wife and Regan have a fourteen-day head start and are likely traveling under false names. But Gregory is not worried: “they’ll run out of dough some day. Regan will cash a check, drop a marker, write a letter . . . they’ve got the same old appetites,” so they’ll show up. Marlowe wonders if the pair left the country by ship and quips to Gregory that Regan might regret his decision because Mrs. Mars would “make a jazzy week-end, but she’d be wearing for a steady diet.”

As Marlowe leaves the office, a gray Plymouth sedan tails him, so Marlowe tries to let the driver catch up. The driver declines.


Eddie Mars’s wife and Regan are still nebulous characters by this chapter, but some details become clearer. Regan looks like “a man who would move fast and play for keeps,” a man with an underlying sadness. Mrs. Mars, in contrast, is glitzy—a torch singer at one time and a woman who likes luxury. These specifics suggest conflict between the purported couple, and the conflict adds to the suspense. Also interesting is that Marlowe was not hired to find Regan—yet he’s chasing leads. Why? Admiration for the General?Attraction to Vivian? The unanswered question adds to the suspense.

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