The Big Sleep: Chapter: 5,6

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Marlowe uses the phone book in a phone booth to get Geiger’s address and phone number. He calls, but there’s no answer. He checks the phone book for rare book stores and drives to one nearby. This shop is clearly an actual used bookstore, with patrons browsing overladen shelves of old books and an intelligent shop assistant who interrupts her law studies to assist Marlowe after he identifies himself as a detective. Her description of Geiger—a heavy, middle-aged, soft man with a glass eye—is so detailed that Marlowe says she could be a cop. “I hope not,” she says as she returns to her studies.

Marlowe sits in his car, rain tapping the rag top, and opens the book he retrieved from the tree. As he suspected, the expensively made book is full of “full-page arty photographs,” that is, pornography. Dates stamped on the endpaper confirm his suspicions: Geiger is running a lending library of “elaborate smut” and “indescribable filth.” He locks the book in his car, thinking that Geiger must have arranged protection, since he operates his illicit business in plain daylight, among respectable shops.


Readers can learn what Marlowe admires in women by comparing his interactions with Geiger’s shop assistant and with the shop assistant in the actual bookstore. Both are pretty; the blond, however, has only her beauty to trade on. She can’t figure out how to deal with Marlowe’s presence and is indecisive and intimidated. The brunette, by contrast, is a sharp observer, apparently unaware of her sexual attractiveness despite a “smooth husky voice” and “fine-drawn face.” Marlowe derides the blond, but he admires the brunette.


Rain pours and “big cops in slickers” carry “giggling girls” across puddles as Marlowe drinks whiskey in his leaking convertible and watches Geiger’s shop. Well-heeled men, and a few women, too, come and go with wrapped books. Finally, a coupe pulls up, and Geiger gets out. A tall boy, another of his employees, parks the coupe around the corner. An hour or so later, the boy brings the coupe around, and Geiger drives away, with Marlowe discreetly following. They head up into a canyon where a handful of nice homes rest on stilts and the cliff side, and Geiger parks the car at his house. Above the house, Marlowe waits, whiskey in hand. Not many cars go by, but a Packard parks at Geiger’s house, and a woman enters the house. Since the Packard’s window is down, Marlowe checks the registration—the car is Carmen’s. After more waiting, Marlowe sees “a flash of hard white light” in Geiger’s house, and he hears a scream—not of fear but “a sound of half-pleasurable shock, an accent of drunkenness, an overtone of pure idiocy.” Marlowe is about to knock on the door when three shots ring out, followed by what sounds like “a long harsh sigh” and “a soft messy thump” and fleeing footsteps. Because the house is on stilts, Marlowe can’t pursue the fleeing person, who drives away. Marlowe breaks a window and enters the hose to find two people in the room. “Neither,” he reports, “paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.”


This chapter reveals Marlowe’s method and skills. After identifying Geiger’s house, for example, he says, “I didn’t know what I was waiting for, but something told me to wait.” And he is patient as an “army of sluggish minutes dragged by.” Readers see his ability to wait, to gather information, to assess situations based on scant details, and to act swiftly when events call for action. The chapter also heightens the suspense: What is going on in Geiger’s house?

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