Philip Marlowe is at the center of the action, as he is in all seven of Chandler’s detective novels. He conforms to Chandler’s dictum, in the essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” that a fictional private eye should be a kind of knight amid the grim decay of the modern city, a conscientious man who tries to right the wrongs of society. In The Long Goodbye, Marlowe and the world through which he moves are less tough and gritty than in the earlier Chandler novels. Marlowe makes several sentimental gestures when he thinks that Terry Lennox is dead; he pursues his investigations only because of his interest in Lennox; he never has a paying client; and he moves with ease in a more affluent social world than that of the earlier novels.
Among the other characters, Terry Lennox and Eileen Wade are the most interesting. Lennox has irresistible charm, and once in his life has performed an instinctive, heroic action, earning the gratitude of two powerful gangsters whose lives he saved. He is, however, without any moral sense, and it is this lack that leads to his decay, his connivance in the phony suicide, and Marlowe’s eventual rejection of him. Eileen Wade is a woman of “paralyzing” beauty who cannot accept the loss of her youthful romantic marriage. Until confronted with Marlowe’s evidence, she believes that her murders are justified and that her beauty and power over men will enable her to escape the consequences of her actions.
The other characters are vividly delineated. Linda Loring’s physician husband is a jealous man, a snob overconfidently sure of his social and professional position. Harlan Potter is suitably austere and tough. Marlowe’s policeman friend, Bernie Ohls, engages in angry exchanges with Marlowe, disagrees with him about the nature of crime, and cynically uses him to trap one of Lennox’s gangster friends. The minor policemen, gangsters, and petty crooks are stock types, but each has identifying characteristics.