Joe Brody is a man who blackmailed Sternwood “to let [his] younger daughter alone”; Sternwood paid him off. Brody has ties to Geiger’s “rare book shop,” that is, his pornography business. Brody is tall, lanky, and above all calm, with “dark brown eyes in a brown expressionless face that had learned to control its expressions long ago.”
Lash Canino is a remorseless killer for hire whom Mars calls in when he needs a trouble-shooter. Canino has brown hair and brown eyes, dresses in brown, and drives a brown car—“Everything is brown for Mr. Canino.” Canino’s behavior seems artificial and considered, as if he had studied how “Hollywood,” that is, movies, “has taught it should be done.”
Larry Cobb is a wealthy “playboy” with whom Vivian Sternwood sometimes goes out to gamble.
Captain Cronjager, “a cold-eyed hatchet-faced man,” works with the Los Angeles district attorney’s office. He disapproves of Marlowe’s methods but is happy to take credit for their results.
Arthur Gwynn (A.G.) Geiger
Arthur Gwynn (A.G.) Geiger runs a rare book shop as a front for a pornography library and attempts to blackmail Sternwood for Carmen’s gambling debts. Geiger is a large, soft, middle-aged man whose own sexual preferences run to the exotic. Chandler’s description of Geiger’s handwriting, bedroom, and accoutrements implies that he is homosexual. Readers must make this inference on their own, given the time during which Marlowe writes; the details that support it are absent from the movie adaptation.
Captain Gregory, a tired man whose voice is “toneless, flat and uninterested,” works for the Missing Persons Bureau.
Art Huck runs a little car repair shop in the hills above Realito. Gaunt and tall, he fears Canino but is forced to work with him, or perhaps for him.
Harry Jones is a small, tense man who ran liquor during Prohibition and has fallen on hard times when he meets with Marlowe in hopes of selling information. Jones is in love with Agnes Lozelle.
Agnes Lozelle is a sexy young woman who works the counter at Geiger’s rare book shop and who, Marlowe says, “walked with a certain something I hadn’t often seen in bookstores.” She’s a confederate of Joe Brody but is so high-strung that she interferes with his plans.
Carol Lundgren is a handsome but impetuous and insolent young man who works as Geiger’s shop assistant.
Philip Marlowe is a thirty-eight-year-old private detective. The Big Sleep introduces this now iconic character who stars in a series of novels including The Long Goodbye and Farewell, My Lovely. The cultural touchstone for the “hard-boiled detective,” Marlowe is smart, bold, and acerbic. A quick and accurate judge of character, Marlowe admires honesty and loyalty in the people around him and quickly dismisses cons, flirts, and other unsavory types.
Eddie Mars is a racketeer who owns The Cypress Club at Las Olindas, a gambling establishment. Marlowe describes him as a “gray man, all gray,” impeccably dressed and polite, with “the hardness of a well-weathered horseman.”He refers to Marlowe as “soldier” and attempts, unsuccessfully, to order him around; it’s clear that he is used to controlling others.
Mona Gage Mars
Mona Gage Mars is a former torch singer and Eddie Mars’s wife. Fascinatingly beautiful, right down to the shape of her hands and the scent of her breath, she loves Mars deeply. Marlowe calls her Silver-Wig because she wears a platinum blonde wig to cover her shorn hair.
Norris is the Sternwoods’ efficient butler. A slender, strong man of middle age, he is well acquainted with the ways of General Sternwood and his daughters and rarely caught off guard by the girls’ behavior. Though outwardly stoic, he seems genuinely to care for the General and his daughters.
Bernie Ohls is chief investigator for the District Attorney’s office. Marlowe describes him as looking “like anybody you would pass on the street.” Blond, of middling height, Ohls has “calm eyes” and a cheerful demeanor, but Marlowe keeps in mind the nine men Ohls has killed in the line of duty.
Terence “Rusty” Regan
Terence “Rusty” Reganis the third husband of Sternwood’s older daughter, Vivian. Formerly an officer in the Irish Republican Army, Regan is a rough-around-the-edges bootlegger whom Sternwood liked to have around, both for company and for protection. As the novel opens, Regan has mysteriously disappeared.
Vivian Sternwood Regan
Vivian Sternwood Regan is General Sternwood’s older daughter and, as the novel opens, Rusty Regan’s apparently abandoned wife. Her father describes her to Marlowe as “spoiled, exacting, smart and quite ruthless.” Savvy and sexy, Vivian is also a snob—but a temptingly beautiful one.
Carmen Sternwood is General Sternwood’s younger daughter. In her early twenties, she is lithe and sensual, “small and delicately put together, but . . . durable.” Her provocatively flirtatious ways and babyish naiveté cause her father, who describes her as “a child who likes to pull wings off flies,” one problem after another.
Guy Sternwood, often referred to in the novel as “the General,” is a wealthy man who late in life became the father of two beautiful, spoiled daughters. A military man, Sternwood is now aged and in very poor health, unable to enjoy the pleasant things of life—“A nice state of affairs when a man has to indulge his vices by proxy,” he observes as he watches Marlowe drink a brandy—but still proud and protective of his wayward daughters.
Owen Taylor is the Sternwoods’ young chauffeur and sometime colluder with Carmen’s wild escapades. He turns up dead, at the wheel of the family Buick, after it plunges into the ocean.
Taggart Wilde is Los Angeles’s district attorney. Middle-aged and a bit heavy, Wilde has blue eyes “that managed to have a friendly expression without really having any expression at all.” Taggart is neat, nervous, and intelligent.