The Big Sleep: A Brief History and Synopsis

The Big Sleep is a renowned detective novel written by Raymond Chandler, first published in 1939. It features one of the most iconic and enduring characters in hard-boiled crime fiction, Philip Marlowe, a private investigator.

The Story

The Big Sleep takes place in Los Angeles, primarily in the late 1930s. The narrative revolves around Marlowe’s investigation into a complex case involving the wealthy Sternwood family. General Guy Sternwood, an elderly and ill former oil tycoon, seeks Marlowe’s assistance to handle a potential blackmail situation that his daughter Carmen has gotten herself entangled in.

As Marlowe delves deeper into the case, he encounters a web of deception, murder, and corruption. He becomes entangled with the glamorous and mysterious Vivian, Carmen’s older sister, and uncovers several dark secrets that the Sternwood family has been harboring. The story follows Marlowe’s relentless pursuit of the truth, often encountering dangerous situations and violent encounters along the way.

Awards, Reviews, and Praise

The Big Sleep has received considerable acclaim and has become a classic in the genre of detective fiction. Although it did not win any specific literary awards, its impact on the noir genre and its contribution to American literature cannot be denied.

Chandler’s masterful storytelling and the innovative portrayal of a morally ambiguous and gritty detective captivated readers and critics alike. The novel was praised for its atmospheric prose, sharp dialogue, and compelling characters. Many consider it as one of the best crime novels ever written.

Critics commended Chandler for his keen ability to capture the essence of Los Angeles and its underbelly during the 1930s. The gritty description of the city, along with its corrupt officials, glamorous socialites, and vivid criminal underworld, added a layer of realism and depth to the narrative.

The gripping plotline, rife with unexpected twists and turns, kept readers on the edge of their seats. Chandler’s portrayal of Philip Marlowe as a tough, cynical, yet honorable protagonist resonated with audiences, making him one of the most beloved characters in detective fiction.

Memorable Characters

The Big Sleep features a host of memorable characters, each contributing to the complex and intriguing storyline:

Philip Marlowe:

The novel’s protagonist, a hard-boiled private detective known for his sharp wit, cynicism, and unyielding determination to uncover the truth.

Vivian Sternwood:

The older daughter of General Sternwood, she is enigmatic, attractive, and shrouded in secrets. Marlowe finds himself entangled with her throughout the investigation.

Carmen Sternwood:

The younger daughter of General Sternwood, Carmen is characterized as wild, reckless, and troubled. Her involvement in the case adds further complexity to Marlowe’s investigation as he tries to protect her.

General Guy Sternwood:

The ailing patriarch of the Sternwood family, he seeks Marlowe’s help to resolve the blackmail situation involving Carmen.

Eddie Mars:

A powerful and dangerous criminal figure, Eddie Mars becomes a central figure in Marlowe’s pursuit of the truth.


A bookseller who assists Marlowe in his investigation, Agnes provides crucial information that helps unravel the intricacies of the case.

These are just a few of the many intriguing characters that populate the pages of The Big Sleep, each contributing to the rich tapestry of Chandler’s noir masterpiece.

In Conclusion

The Big Sleep remains a timeless classic in the realm of detective fiction. Its intricate plot, compelling characters, and atmospheric portrayal of Los Angeles continue to captivate readers of all generations. If you are a fan of hard-boiled crime novels and seek a thrilling read that explores the dark underbelly of society, The Big Sleep is a must-read.

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