The Big Sleep
Goodreads ratings
3.99 / 5

"The Big Sleep" Summary

By Raymond Chandler

mystery | 221 pages | Published in 2020

ISBN_13: 9780369401229
ISBN_10: 0369401220

Estimated read time: 4 min read

One Sentence Summary

Private detective Philip Marlowe gets entangled in a web of blackmail, murder, and deception while investigating a wealthy family's secrets.


"The Big Sleep" is a classic hardboiled detective novel written by Raymond Chandler. Published in 1939, it introduces the world to private investigator Philip Marlowe, who is hired by a wealthy general to handle a case involving blackmail. The novel is celebrated for its complex plot, vivid characters, and Chandler's distinctive writing style, which has had a lasting impact on the crime fiction genre.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview

Set in Los Angeles during the 1930s, "The Big Sleep" follows Philip Marlowe as he is hired by General Sternwood to handle a case involving his youngest daughter, Carmen, who is being blackmailed for gambling debts. As Marlowe delves deeper into the case, he uncovers a web of deceit, murder, and corruption that extends beyond the original blackmail scheme.


The novel is set against the backdrop of a gritty and glamorous Los Angeles, where the opulence of the wealthy clashes with the seedy underbelly of crime and corruption. The city serves as a character in itself, with its dark alleys, smoky nightclubs, and lavish mansions providing the perfect backdrop for Marlowe's investigation.

Main Events

Chapters 1-4Marlowe is hired by General Sternwood to handle the blackmail case involving Carmen. He meets Vivian, Sternwood's older daughter, and begins to unravel the complexities of the case.
Chapters 5-8Marlowe encounters various suspects and witnesses, including the eccentric Arthur Gwynn Geiger and the enigmatic Eddie Mars. His investigation leads to a series of violent encounters and confrontations.
Chapters 9-12The plot thickens as Marlowe uncovers a connection between the blackmail case and other criminal activities. He navigates a maze of deception and danger, putting his own life at risk in the process.
Chapters 13-16The novel reaches its climax as Marlowe untangles the web of lies and confronts the mastermind behind the elaborate scheme. The resolution brings closure to the case but leaves lingering questions about the nature of truth and justice.

Main Characters

Philip Marlowe

A tough and cynical private detective with a strong moral code and a knack for navigating the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles. Marlowe is a classic noir protagonist, known for his sharp wit and relentless determination.

General Sternwood

A wealthy and ailing patriarch who hires Marlowe to handle the blackmail case involving his daughters. Sternwood is shrewd and enigmatic, with a troubled family history that complicates the investigation.

Carmen Sternwood

The youngest daughter of General Sternwood, Carmen is a troubled and unpredictable young woman whose reckless behavior draws Marlowe into a web of danger and intrigue.

Vivian Sternwood

The older daughter of General Sternwood, Vivian is a complex and alluring woman with a mysterious agenda of her own. She becomes entangled in Marlowe's investigation, blurring the lines between ally and adversary.

Themes and Insights

"The Big Sleep" explores themes of morality, corruption, and the blurred lines between good and evil. Chandler's portrayal of a morally ambiguous world reflects the disillusionment of the post-Depression era, where traditional values clashed with the harsh realities of urban life. The novel also delves into the complexities of human nature, depicting characters who are driven by desire, greed, and desperation.

Reader's Takeaway

Readers of "The Big Sleep" are treated to a gripping and atmospheric tale of crime and deception, set against the backdrop of a vividly depicted Los Angeles. Chandler's masterful prose and intricate plotting make the novel a compelling read, while the enigmatic character of Philip Marlowe continues to captivate audiences with his hard-edged charm and unwavering integrity.


"The Big Sleep" stands as a timeless classic in the crime fiction genre, showcasing Raymond Chandler's unparalleled skill in crafting intricate plots and memorable characters. The novel's enduring popularity and influence speak to its status as a landmark work in the world of detective fiction, offering readers a richly immersive journey into the dark and dangerous world of Philip Marlowe.

The Big Sleep FAQ

  1. What is 'The Big Sleep' about?

    The Big Sleep is a hardboiled crime novel that follows private detective Philip Marlowe as he investigates the blackmail of a wealthy family and becomes entangled in a web of crime and corruption.

  2. Who is the author of 'The Big Sleep'?

    Raymond Chandler is the author of 'The Big Sleep'.

  3. Is 'The Big Sleep' part of a series?

    Yes, 'The Big Sleep' is the first novel in the Philip Marlowe series, which features the iconic detective Philip Marlowe in various crime investigations.

  4. What genre is 'The Big Sleep'?

    'The Big Sleep' is a classic hardboiled detective fiction, known for its gritty portrayal of crime and its complex, morally ambiguous characters.

  5. Is 'The Big Sleep' a film adaptation?

    Yes, 'The Big Sleep' has been adapted into a film multiple times, with the most famous adaptation being the 1946 film starring Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe.