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What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that.
The convoluted plot follows the investigation by Hardboiled Detective Philip Marlowe into the gambling debts of young dilettante Carmen Sternwood at the behest of her father, an old, wheelchair-bound millionnaire. However, Carmen's older sister, Vivian Regan, claims that the investigation is really about finding what happened to her husband Sean Regan, who has mysteriously disappeared.
The novel contains examples of:
- Affably Evil: Eddie Mars.
- Big Sleep: Trope Namer.
- Bitter Almonds: A side character is poisoned with cyanide in whisky and dies in the span of a single page. Notably, although the smell is noted, Marlowe calls the cyanide not because of the smell but because the victim vomited.
- Deadpan Snarker: Everyone.
- Empathic Environment: Used frequently in the novel.
- Expy: Philip Marlowe bears a striking resemblance to a detective named Carmady who featured in the short stories Chandler had written for Black Mask magazine. Chandler also recycled incidents from three of those stories into this novel.
- Femme Fatale: Vivian Regan. Averted in that Marlowe withstands her advances aside from when he needs to get information out of Vivian.
- Fille Fatale: Carmen Sternwood.
- Gentleman Snarker: Marlowe.
- Godiva Hair: The woman tied to the tree in the stained glass window is nude but for "convenient" hair.
- Hardboiled Detective: The character of Philip Marlowe is pretty much the Trope Codifier.
- Ignore the Fanservice: A beautiful young lady turns up naked in Philip Marlowe's bed and tries to seduce him. His response is basically Please Put Some Clothes On.
- Never Suicide: Police are initially inclined to treat one of the deaths as a suicide, but a couple of details don't add up. In the book, it probably was suicide after all. The answer is never explicitly stated, but Marlowe's investigation accounts for all the not-adding-up details, and he suggests that Taylor's circumstances were pretty desperate. And then the police close the case as suicide, and Marlowe — whose most endearing characteristic is that he'll keep on a case forever if he's not satisfied — doesn't pursue it, which would indicate that he considers it settled.
- Posthumous Character: Rusty Regan.
- Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: General Sternwood
- Yandere: Carmen Sternwood. Good God. She'd be a full-blown Ax Crazy if she didn't prefer guns.