Macmillan offshoot Henry Holt has announced that Booker shortlisted writer John Banville will be cobbling together a new Philip Marlowe novel in the style of Raymond Chandler, an announcement that had Crimezine reaching unsteadily for the ‘office bottle’.
Crimezine knew things were bad for the vanishing handful of big name publishing houses, but we had no idea how bad. A world-wide lack of enthusiasm for end of isle best sellers has led to a new age of marketing ‘innovation’. No surprise that the big money marketeers are now reaching for the top selling successes of yesteryear in a desperate attempt to enliven their flagging balance sheets.
Hollyweird has for many years cannibalized cinematic ideas in a shameless cycle of self parody that grows more rapid as the years stumble by. Meanwhile artists and musicians have been copying each other for centuries, but literature— particularly crime literature—surely that is sacred?
The brand of ‘Pulp’ Crime writing popularized by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler has been widely copied throughout the years, in a way, some would argue, that has diminished the genre. More importantly Hammett and Chandler wrote very few books by modern standards leaving a demand vacuum for other authors to fill. Recently other legendary characters, such as Sherlock Holmes and James Bond have received ‘new’ story treatments by modern authors Jeffery Deaver and Anthony Horowitz, respectively. So it should come as no surprise that publishing poobahs are trying it with Chandler.
They have tried it before, of course. Twenty years ago Robert B. Parker wrote a brace of largely forgotten works in the style of Chandler: Poodle Springs, a novel Chandler started before his death in 1959, followed by a sequel to the Big Sleep entitled Perchance to Dream; a tome that had Crimezine snoozing—rather than disappearing into a pseudo Shakespearean noir dream world.
Still, give Johnny a chance we say, he might be a ‘Novelist, Playwright, and Screenwriter’ as his resume so grandly announces —but so was Chandler. Banville is also a crime enthusiast, as his less than legendary Benjamin Black novels prove, and he did win the Franz Kafka Prize in 2011, so he knows a thing or three about Chandleresque plot lines.
So what is the problem we hear you ask? Simply put the literary establishment has been looking down its collective nose at the world of Crime writing for decades. Literary critic Edmund Wilson once described Mystery writing as a vice, that ranked somewhere between smoking and crossword puzzles.
How ironic then, that the same literary establishment should look to plagiarize Chandler to rebuild its own ailing fortunes. It is enough to make a Bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window, as Chandler might say.
What do you think Crimeziners, can Banville cut it?
For further thoughts on ghost writing, read the Crimezine article Ghost writers in the Machine, first published in October last year.