• Victoria Reeve

Raymond Chandler's Big Sleep, Disturbed

Copyrights mean that it's not possible for me to publish the whole novel by Chandler--though what a pity, it would make for some hilarious and informative reading. I can however post some extracts of the novel in flipped form for educational purposes. Of course, you don't need to flip the gender in this novel to see that misogyny is rife in it. But flipping the genders does bring this sharply into focus--you can't gloss over it. We are so used to depictions of women along these lines that we don't always pick up on the nastiness at work in such descriptions. And let's be honest, it's also a fun way to deal with these issues.


So get set for a fun and informative ride. Personally, I prefer Philippa Marlow, aka Bitchface Reilly, to the man in the powder-blue suit. Let me know what you think.


It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with a dark blue blouse, silver pendant and bracelet, black pumps, black silk stockings with an embroidered seam running down the length of them at the back and ending in a little bow at the ankle. I was neat, clean, made up and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

[…]

I was still staring at the hot black eyes when a door opened far back under the stairs. It wasn’t the housekeeper coming back. It was a boy.

He was twenty or so, small and delicately put together, but he looked durable. He wore pale blue trousers and they looked well on him. He walked as if he were floating. His hair was a fine tawny wave cut much shorter than the current fashion of a longish length on top swept up in a wave whose crest was meant to naturally fall away at the back. His eyes were slate-grey, and had almost no expression when they looked at me. He came over near me and smiled with his mouth and he had little sharp predatory teeth, as white as fresh orange pith and as shiny as porcelain. They glistened between his thin too taut lips. His face lacked colour and didn’t look too healthy.

‘Tall aren’t you?’ he said.

‘I didn’t mean to be.’

His eyes rounded. He was puzzled. He was thinking. I could see, even on that short acquaintance, that thinking was always going to bother him.

‘Beautiful too,’ he said. ‘And I bet you know it.’

I grunted.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Reilly,’ I said. ‘Bitchface Reilly.’

‘That’s a funny name.’ He bit his lip and turned his head a little and looked at me along his eyes. Then he lowered his lashes until they almost cuddled his cheeks and slowly raised them again, like a theatre curtain.

[…]

I sat down on the edge of a deep soft chair and looked at Victor Sternwood Regan. He was worth a stare. He was trouble. He was stretched out on a modernistic chaise-lounge with the shirt of the sheerest silk pyjamas opened to the waist. His torso seemed to be arranged to stare at. His chest was wide and his pectoral muscles firm and the skin over them was smooth, tanned and hairless. His hips were narrow and suggestive of an exquisite butt behind it all. He was tall and rangy and strong-looking. His head was against an ivory satin cushion. His hair was black and wiry and parted on the side and he had the hot black eyes of the portrait in the hall. He had a good mouth and a good chin. There was a sulky droop to his lips and the lower lip was full.

He had a drink. He took a swallow from it and gave me a cool level stare over the rim of the glass.

‘So you’re a private detective,’ he said. ‘I didn’t know they really existed, except in books. Or else they were greasy little women snooping around hotels.’

[…]

I went out, down the tile staircase to the hall, and the housekeeper drifted out of somewhere with my hat in her hand. I put it on while she opened the door for me.’

‘You made a mistake,’ I said. ‘Mr Regan didn’t want to see me.’

She inclined her silver head and said politely: ‘I’m sorry, madam. I make many mistakes.’ She closed the door against my back.

[…]

I walked down a brick path from terrace to terrace, followed along inside the fence and so out of the gates to where I had left my car under a pepper tree on the street. Thunder was crackling in the foothills now and the sky above them was purple-black. It was going to rain hard. The air had the damp foretaste of rain. I put the top up on my convertible before I started down-town.

He had lovely pecks. I would say that for him. They were a couple of pretty smooth citizens, he and his mother. She was probably just trying me out; the job she had given me was a lawyer’s job. Even if Mrs Adele Gwynn Geiger, Rare Books and De Luxe Editions, turned out to be a blackmailer, it was still a lawyer’s job. Unless there was a lot more to it than met the eye. At a casual glance I thought I might have a lot of fun finding out.

I drove down to the Hollywood public library and did a little superficial research in a stuffy volume called Famous First Editions. Half an hour of it made me need my lunch.

[…]

There were blue leather easy chairs with smoke stands beside them. A few sets of tooled leather bindings were set out on narrow polished tables, between book ends. There were more tooled bindings in glass cases on the walls. Nice-looking merchandise, the kind a rich promoter would buy by the yard and have somebody paste her book-plate in. At the back there was a grained wood partition with a door in the middle of it, shut. In the corner made by the partition and one wall a man sat behind a small desk with a carved wooden lantern on it.

He got up slowly and glided towards me in a tight pair of black trousers that didn’t reflect any light. He had a broad chest and he walked with a certain something I hadn’t often see in bookstores. He was an ash blond with greenish eyes, dark black lashes, hair waved smoothly back from ears in which a large jet button glittered in one, matching the jet crucifix he wore about his neck. His fingers were long and slender, like a concert pianist’s. In spite of his get-up he looked as if he would have a hall bedroom accent.

He approached me with enough sex appeal to stampede a businesswomen’s lunch and tilted his head to finger a stray, but not very stray, tendril of soft glowing hair. His smile was tentative, but could be persuaded to be nice.

‘Was it something?’ he inquired.

I had my horn-rimmed glasses on. I put my voice high and let a bird twitter in it. ‘Would you happen to have a Ben Hur1860?’

He didn’t say: ‘Huh?’ but he wanted to. He smiled bleakly. ‘A first edition?’

‘Third,’ I said. ‘The one with the erratum on page 116.’

‘I’m afraid not – at the moment.’

‘How about a Chevalier Audubon 1840 – the full set, of course?’

‘Er – not at the moment,’ he said harshly. His smile was now hanging by its teeth and eyebrows and wondering what it would hit when it dropped.

‘You do sell books?’ I said in my polite falsetto.

He looked me over. No smile now. Eyes medium to hard. Pose very straight and stiff. He waved his slender fingers at the glassed-in shelves. ‘What do they look like – grapefruit?’ he inquired tartly.

‘Oh, that sort of thing hardly interests me, you know. Probably has duplicate sets of steel engravings, tuppence coloured and a penny plain. The usual vulgarity. No. I’m sorry. No.’

‘I see.’ He tried to jack the smile back on his face. He was as sore as an alderwoman with the mumps. ‘Perhaps Ms Geiger – but she’s not in at the moment.’ His eyes studied me carefully. He knew as much about rare books as I knew about handling a flea circus.

[…]

I reached a flash out of my car pocket and went down-grade and looked at the car. It was a Packard convertible, maroon or dark brown. The left window was down. I felt for the licence holder and poked a light at it. The registration read: Carson Sternwood, 3765 Alta Brea Crescent, West Hollywood. […]

At seven-twenty a single flash of hard white light shot out of Adele Geiger’s house like a wave of summer lightening. As the darkness folded back on it and ate it up a thin tinkling scream echoed out and lost itself among the rain-drenched trees. I was out of my car and on my way before the echoes died.

There was no fear in the scream. It had a sound of half-pleasurable shock, and accent of drunkenness, and overtone of pure idiocy. It was a nasty sound. It made me think of women in white and barred windows and hard narrow cots with leather wrist and ankle straps fastened to them. The Geiger hideaway was perfectly silent again when I hit the gap in the hedge and dodged round the angle that masked the front door. There was an iron ring in a lion’s mouth for a knocker. I reached for it, I had hold of it. At that exact instant, as if somebody had been waiting for the cue, three shots boomed in the house. There was a sound that might have been a long harsh sigh. Then a soft messy thump. And then rapid footsteps in the house – going away.

[…] I climbed over the railing again and kicked the French window in, used my hat for a glove and pulled out most of the lower small pane of glass. I could now reach in and draw a bolt that fastened the window to the sill. The rest was easy. There was no top bolt. The catch gave. I climbed in and pulled the drapes off my face.

Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.

[…]

On a sort of low dais at one end of the room there was a high-backed teakwood chair in which Mr Carson Sternwoon was sitting on a fringed orange shawl. […]

He was wearing a long jade pendant. It was a nice pendant and had probably cost a couple of hundred dollars. He wasn’t wearing anything else.

He had a beautiful body, small, lithe, compact, firm, well-endowed. His skin in the lamplight had the shimmering lustre of a pearl. His chest muscles didn’t quite have the raffish grace of Mr Regan’s pecks, but they were very nice. I looked him over without either embarrassment or ruttishness. As a naked boy he was not there in that room at all. He was just a dope. To me he was always just a dope.

[…]

I listened to the rain hitting the roof and the north windows. Beyond was no other sound, no cars, no siren, just the rain beating. I went over to the divan and peeled off my trench coat and pawed through the boy’s clothes. There was a pair of pale green rough wool trousers, a white dress shirt, and the bespoke trench coat in deep navy blue that I had seen him enter the house in. I thought I might be able to handle it. I decided to pass up his underclothes, not from feelings of delicacy, but because I couldn’t see myself putting his underpants on and tucking in his singlet. I took the trousers and shirt over to the teak chair on the dais. Master Sternwood smelled of ether also, at a distance of several feet. The tinny chuckling noise was still coming from him and a little froth oozed down his chin. I slapped his face. He blinked and stopped chuckling. I slapped him again.

‘Come on,’ I said. ‘Let’s be nice. Let’s get dressed.’

He peered at me, his slaty eyes as empty as holes in a mask. ‘Gugugoterell,’ he said.

I slapped him around a little more. He didn’t mind the slaps. They didn’t bring him out of it. I set to work with the trousers. He didn’t mind that either. […]

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