Like The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep is replete with unsavory characters. I think these characters are even more depraved in Chandler’s book than in Hammett’s. I’ll get into the rest of the characters in another post, but I wanted to highlight four characters that Chandler gives. They chain together, responsible for the destruction of the next character, and themselves. This is only tangentially related to the central premise of the book. Their plots and lives simply intersect with what is ultimately the mystery of who killed Rusty Regan.
He owns a porn library with the laudable (and laughable) front of a rare book store. As if this wasn’t enough, he’s taken to blackmailing people (we know of Carmen, but there must be more) in the guise of magnanimously offering loans to cover gambling debts. He freely engages in the use of recreational drugs, which makes it all the easier to get women into poses for his smut books.
The Sternwood chauffeur who has a crush on Carmen. He stalks her incessantly, even showing up at Geiger’s place. In a rage he attempts to rescue Carmen, but really all he does is take out Geiger who is exploiting her. If he had true intentions to rescue Carmen (who is supposed to be the love of his life) he would not have left her naked and drugged next to a dead body while he ran out of the house with naked pictures of her.
A small-time hood with aspirations of grandeur, he wants a slice (okay the whole thing) of Geiger’s pie, and makes off with Geiger’s stock at the earliest opportunity. He also is indirectly responsible for Owen Taylor’s death after concussing the man and stealing the photos of Carmen (Owen would then go on to try to drive back, but lost control of the vehicle. Murder but not). Brody constantly thinks he can play with the big boys, but he doesn’t have the size, the bearing for it. He’s nervous with a gun and easily tricked into giving up information. It was only a matter of time until he would end up in jail or dead from his own choices.
He is Geiger’s homosexual lover and a young man with a mouth on him. He believes himself to be a tough guy. He’s got a foul mouth and is easy with using a gun to kill. He doesn’t even hesitate to do so on first sight. He wants revenge for Geiger’s death, and so guns down Joe Brody right after the door swings open. No questions. No statements. Just hot lead. The problem? Joe didn’t do it. Sure, Joe was guilty of stealing Geiger’s stock, and he was there the night Geiger was murdered, but the murder was Owen’s crime. Carol, grief-stricken, gunned down the wrong man, and now he’ll go to prison for life, or maybe be executed.
I bring up these characters to show how Chandler has created an interconnected web of these characters destroying one another. They are all depraved, though each in a somewhat different way, consumed by their quest for various vices. I have no doubt if Ellroy and Penzler had a story just focusing on these acts they would declare it a noir story. And it still makes me wonder: Why does the presence of a crime-solving PI make so much of a difference?
As I move forward with each of these posts, I can see more clearly that necessity of having loser characters as a definition for noir, and I have even found a way to examine the PI as that same kind of character. So the definition is both true and not, but that doesn’t make any kind of sense. I know I’m reaching towards something, but don’t quite have all the pieces yet.