Benjamin Black, aka John Banville, is the author of the excellent series of crime novels set in 1950s Dublin -- in The Black-Eyed Blonde, he stays in the 1950s but moves to Raymond Chandler's mean streets of Los Angeles. He also brings back PI Philip Marlowe for another knightly adventure. After just last week or so having finished and fallen in love with all seven of the original Marlowe novels, I was frankly skeptical that anyone could pull off a new Marlowe story, but as it turns out, I didn't have to worry.
The author definitely has a firm hold on the essence of what it is that constitutes Marlowe. The description of our PI hero as a "shop-soiled Galahad" in The High Window remains the same here -- Black's Marlowe continues to protect his clients and keep their secrets at all costs, which in this book turn out to be more personal than he'll realize. He's still the same outwardly tough, hard-drinking Marlowe, with no illusions about human nature, especially when it comes to the rich and powerful. He's still the ultimate loner going back to an empty house with nothing but a chess board for company. There's no question but that in building his own brand of Philip Marlowe Benjamin Black has been very successful. The same is true for the rest of the book, with Black's own version of the famous Chandler similes and metaphors, well done, but not overdone. I must say that I missed the depth of Chandler's Los Angeles in this novel -- Chandler was so in tune with the city that his descriptions of LA were one big reason I loved these books. While I think that Black has got the city's late-1950s feel down, no way does his Los Angeles come close to the one in Chandler's originals. On the other hand, perhaps that isn't a fair comment -- Black hasn't set out to become Raymond Chandler, and I think he made a good decision there -- it seems to me that by keeping true to the main character while not trying to pastichize (is that a word?) Chandler in general, it allows the author to make it more his own work. If you've read him as Benjamin Black, you'll definitely recognize little bits of his style in this novel. I remember one line that made me laugh, thinking "this is so Benjamin Black," where Marlowe's gone off to a joint called The Bull and Bear, and he notes “I can’t decide which are worse, bars that pretend to be Irish, with their plastic shamrocks and shillelaghs, or Cockneyfied joints like the Bull. I could describe it, but I haven’t the heart.”
Overall, I totally enjoyed losing myself in this novel. You don't have to have already read Chandler to enjoy the twisty plot, the characters (especially Marlowe), and the late 50s feel, but it would be helpful. Definitely a book I'd recommend to Chandler fans, to old crime-fiction fans, and especially to readers of Benjamin Black's work. I'm in awe of how good this author is every time I finish one of his books.
before I post a review here, if you're wanting a copy of this book, and you live in the US, you can have mine. I'll pay postage. Just be the first to...morebefore I post a review here, if you're wanting a copy of this book, and you live in the US, you can have mine. I'll pay postage. Just be the first to leave a comment and it's yours.(less)
Well, here it is -- the last original book in the Marlowe series, and I've now read them all. I'm actually going to miss reading these, wondering what...moreWell, here it is -- the last original book in the Marlowe series, and I've now read them all. I'm actually going to miss reading these, wondering what Marlowe would have gotten himself into down the road. I've LOVED each and every book in this series, and for that matter, the series as a whole.
I'll leave off plot here, but you can get more by clicking through to my post on this book at my online reading journal.
Playback is a novel that is one long conundrum -- every time Marlowe figures something out, it leads to another mystery, and getting down to the basic truth of matters takes the reader right up to the end. Of course, this wouldn't be Chandler if he didn't remark on society, and setting his novel in the town of Esmeralda (read La Jolla) makes it easy. As he untangles his way through the knotty enigmas of the case, Marlowe becomes aware of the social and economic discrepancies of this community. The rich and powerful are respected in this town, and there's very little room among their set for the the tasteless, the classless and the poor. Marlowe also spends time with an elderly gentleman who clues him in on aging and how this segment of society is often ignored just because they're old.
This book might not be Chandler's finest work, but the fact that there's a mystery that keeps you guessing may be a big draw for those interested only in the crime aspect. But really, what makes this and all of the other Marlowe novels work is his humanity, his ongoing compassion and his determination to get to the truth despite the costs to himself, all while protecting his clients. In Playback, these very traits are juxtaposed against another PI, who is rough around the edges, shows no class or discernment, and is there to make his money despite what his client is asking him to do.
I can most highly recommend not only this book, but the entire set of Marlowe novels as well, which together constitute some of the best writing in the history of crime fiction while remaining intelligent, sophisticated, and consistent. The plots are convoluted and tangled, there is definitely a formula attached to each book, and sometimes it's like you need to keep scorecards on who's involved with whom, etc, etc. However, if you read these books simply for their plots, you're really missing the best part. (less)
I love this series. Absolutely. If modern American crime writers could write like this, my tbr pile would be beyond overflowing.
If you want a little...moreI love this series. Absolutely. If modern American crime writers could write like this, my tbr pile would be beyond overflowing.
If you want a little more about this book than what I've written here, you can click here and read about it at my reading journal. Otherwise, read on.
Like all of the Chandler novels so far, The Little Sister has a plot that is once again overly convoluted and overly complex, but Chandler is in rare form here, having Marlowe spill his guts about the city, his job, the people and even the state of California.
Marlowe is back in #615 Cahuenga "stalking the bluebottle fly" that's been buzzing around him for a while, when in walks Orfamay Quest, of whom Marlowe notes "nobody ever looked less like Lady Macbeth." * She's not Marlowe's usual fare -- no make up, and rimless glasses that "gave her that librarian's look." Hailing from the small town of Manhattan, Kansas, Orfamay wants Marlowe to find her brother Orrin. He came to Bay City a year earlier, and the last Orfamay and her mother heard from him was several months earlier. Now they're worried about him. Marlowe starts his search for Orrin at his last known address, and once again, our hero finds himself heading down the usual tangential road into a case that puts him smack into the glitz, glitter, and moral ugliness of Hollywood, a killer with a penchant for icepicks, corrupt cops, drugs and blackmail. It also leaves Marlowe feeling very, very low.
Once again, Chandler's descriptions of Los Angeles are at peak form, both positive and negative. Marlowe reflects and waxes melancholy on the case, Hollywood, the city and himself, with Marlowe at his most somber state of all of the novels so far. But, while the plot is once again complex enough to keep a file on who's who, how they're connected, etc. etc., I just love the sardonic cynicism of Marlowe. I also found myself for the first time in the series feeling sorry for the guy. I cannot speak highly enough of these novels -- they are some of the most literary crime novels ever written.