"Raymond Chandler's incomparable private eye is back, pulled by a seductive young heiress into the most difficult and dangerous case of his career"It was one of those summer Tuesday afternoons when you begin to wonder if the earth has stopped revolving. The telephone on my desk had the look of something that knows it's being watched. Traffic trickled by in the street below, and there were a few pedestrians, too, men in hats going nowhere."So begins The Black-Eyed Blonde, a new novel featuring Philip Marlowe--yes, that Philip Marlowe. Channeling Raymond Chandler, Benjamin Black has brought Marlowe back to life for a new adventure on the mean streets of Bay City, California. It is the early 1950s, Marlowe is as restless and lonely as ever, and business is a little slow. Then a new client is shown in: young, beautiful, and expensively dressed, she wants Marlowe to find her former lover, a man named Nico Peterson. Marlowe sets off on his search, but almost immediately discovers that Peterson's disappearance is merely the first in a series of bewildering events. Soon he is tangling with one of Bay City's richest families and developing a singular appreciation for how far they will go to protect their fortune.Only Benjamin Black, a modern master of the genre, could write a new Philip Marlowe novel that has all the panache and charm of the originals while delivering a story that is as sharp and fresh as today's best crime fiction"--
I re-read The Long Goodbye before braving Benjamin Black's sequel, but I think relying on a vague memory would have been wiser. Black - Irish writer John Banville - has a fair crack at Chandler, bar the occasional anachronism/Britishism and flowery metaphor. What bothered me more, ironically, was how close he stuck to the original text. I suspect he read synopses of the first five Marlowe novels, before cribbing the ever-living daylights out of The Long Goodbye. The plot of The Black-Eyed Blonde is virtually identical, down to actually borrowing characters from the source material. I'm just not sure what the point of the whole exercise was - not providing Chandler's readers with a new story, that's for sure. When Marlowe kisses said blonde with dark eyes (I suspect Chandler's title would have had a more violent connotation), the clinch is almost Chandler word for word ('She didn't resist, but she didn't respond either'). The references and in-jokes are easy to spot, but Black is seemingly unable to maintain Marlowe's voice without borrowing phrases from Chandler. As one character remarks to photocopy-Phil, 'You obviously haven't put your heart into it so far'.
Successful spin-offs either focus on a new story while honouring the spirit of the original, or style the whole sequel as a fondly penned pastiche. Black is sort of a literary J.J. Abrams, mistaking cut and paste for homage. Don't read the two novels back to back.
Review: As a fan of Chandler and the noir genre, I found Black's writing to hold up quite well. The settings engendered tension, dread and suspicion, wrapped in a fog of cigarette smoke and booze. The characters echoed Chandler's crew in their grittiness, weaknesses, and occasional flickers of good. Reading this book is time well spend.
I can't recommend this novel enough if you like mysteries (you'll suddenly realize how mediocre the writing is is most of them), especially of the noir genre. There are also some great LA scenes, although Marlow and most of the characters seem to go about their business without much appreciation or interest in what makes it such a fascinating city. Highly recommended.
Right from the title, you can see that Black is going out of his way to emulate all the flair of Chanlder's noir sensibilities. Indeed, the opening paragraph reads almost like a parody of a Philip Marlowe book. This could be seen as disingenuous, but you really can't tell this type of story without the sort of meandering, overblown, yet somehow homey prose that Chandler reveled in. Our hapless protagonist is literally waiting in his office for the black-eyed blonde to walk in. The plot takes place shortly after the end of The Long Goodbye, and this may be one of the more trying flaws. There's a number of very obvious references to previous Marlowe stories than Chandler might have included. I'm all for continuity, but they pop up with a frequency that feels more like fan service than anything that adds to the story. The plot develops in a convoluted, round-a-bout fashion, which is totally appropriate for the milieu; Chandler could write metaphors like a poet, but couldn't plot his way out of a paper bag, and I think this helps build the atmosphere of his stories. Marlowe himself comments that things tend to just happen around him, and cases resolve themselves or don't regardless of his best efforts. Those who are familiar with the rest of Chandler's novels will totally see what Black is trying to do, setting up Marlowe for the previously non-sequiter events that would have occurred in Chandler's last book, had he lived to finish it.
Black captures the dry humor of Marlowe's inner-monologue flawlessly, though the whole ordeal is more self-aware and more cynical than what Chandler would have written. Both the sex and violence feels more explicit, which I imagine is a bit of modern crime-fiction sensibilities bleeding in onto this throwback. Indeed, The Black-Eyed Blonde is very much a throwback; a nostalgic return to a different type of crime story. Philip Marlowe is a man with no extraordinary intelligence or ability. He's just a working stiff with real heart who can't seem to find a break, which is exactly why we seem to like him so much. Black must like him too, because there's a lot of love for Chandler and his poetic, hard-boiled prose in these pages. I'm not sure whether he's playing with the tropes, or just letting them happen the way we expect, but in all we have a comfortable, engaging, and entertaining story that gives a bit more life to an old friend.
Free review copy.
This was a very entertaining read, like being transported back into an old Humphrey Bogart film noir movie, complete with mysterious dames and hidden agendas galore. As I was reading, I couldn't help but imagine the scenes in black and white, too.
Benjamin Black (pen name of John Banville) has captured the feel perfectly of the old Raymond Chandler pulps, bringing Philip Marlowe back to life in 1950s Los Angeles.
A thoroughly enjoyable read!
If you liked the repartee of Bogie and Bacall, in "The Big Sleep," you'll like this.
John Banville writing as Benjamin Black writing as Raymond Chandler. Got it?
It's been a good twenty-five years since I read Chandler, but to my recollection, Black pretty much nailed it. And if you have only seen movies based on Chandler, well it's easy enough to hear the lines coming out of Bogie's mouth.
So you've got this guy, Nico Peterson, who's dead. Only maybe not really. Marlowe gets hired because Nico's girlfriend, Claire Cavendish, saw him in San Francisco. After he died. Claire is heir to a major perfume empire and moves in the type of high class circles that make Marlowe uncomfortable but that he seems to find himself tangled up with. Add his cop buddies/nemeses, a mob boss, and a club for the movers and shakers and it really feels like what I recall vintage Marlowe to be.
Funny, witty, well crafted mystery. Great addition to the long history of Philip Marlowe stories.
DP Lyle, award-winning author of the Samantha Cody and Dub Walker thriller series