Top of the morning to you Crimeziners. It is over sixty years since Raymond Chandler’s last great novel the Long Goodbye kicked out the stained glass windows of metaphorical bishop’s residencies everywhere. But now, just as you thought it was safe to go into the confessional, there is a new blonde in town.
The last hired gun to tackle a Chandler reboot was Robert B. Parker with Poodle Springs & Perchance to Dream. And now once again, those nice people at the Chandler estate are opening up the great mans casket to see if there is a dime or three they missed. As luck of the Irish would have it, the pennies on the corpses eyes are pure gold this time out.
As Crimezine has previously mentioned Benjamin Black is the mystery-writing pseudonym of award winning Irish novelist John Banville, a man whose elegantly crafted noir mysteries set in 1950’s Dublin feature a grouchy pathologist known only as Quirke.
Now, Banville cuts an elegant figure in a fedora, but can he cut it when it comes to emulating -one of the most idiosyncratic—and widely copied—authors of the 20th century? Banville certainly follows the Philip Marlowe formula closely, almost too closely on occasion. Then, there is the phenomena of Humphery Bogart to contend with; without question the actor casts a long shadow that over the idea of just who and what Philip Marlowe is, so we should perhaps not be surprised to discover on occasion that Banville is channeling Bogart rather than Chandler. There are perhaps some folks who would argue that is a good thing, because genius though Chandler was, he also had certain faults as a writer, for example, his love of convoluted adverbs, and his ad hoc often whiskey addled, plotting. Thankfully Banville manages to keep such excesses in check.
A popular perception has developed that Chandler’s style consists entirely of clever metaphors and music-hall witticisms. In fact, his language is often far more complex and Banville does an admirable job of emulating the many idiosyncrasies found in Chandler’s work. He keeps the repartee brisk and well timed. This is to be admired but it also draws the clearest distinction between the work of Banville and Chandler as the great Raymondo was never shy of excess—in all its forms.
Hardcore Chandler fans will no doubt have a number of grumbles with this book, but given the quality of the novel as a whole, such complaints can be “walked off” as quickly as Marlowe tackles a crack on the noggin from a boulevard tough guy. Similarly, linguistic aficionados may spot a number of stylistic clangers but these niggle rather than annoy. Historical pedants will likewise find themselves computing the veracity of certain details. But the 1950s, that was a long time ago right?
Then of course there are the Angelenos. It is not clear if Banville has ever been to Los Angeles. He hired native help to “fill in the details”, but cold hard facts are never enough to compensate for the lyrical intensity of a city as complex and enigmatic as The City of Angels; chapter 13 of Chandler’s book Little Sister is a case in point. It is here that Chandler goes off into one of his famous digressions about the city he loved so much; The writing is so good, it made some dude called Michael Connelly want to be a writer—many others too no doubt.
But what of the Black-eyed Blonde, we hear you ask. Well, the trouble starts when hot strutting heiress Clare Cavendish hires Marlowe to hunt down her extra marital man-squeeze Nico Peterson. Unfortunately it transpires that Peterson has gotten dead in a street corner accident but whadya know—young Nico might not be as dead as we think. Marlowe says to the gorgeous young heiress, “As a private eye I’m not completely unknown, but why would a daughter of Dorothea Langrishe of Ocean Heights… choose me to find her missing man?” Why indeed Crimeziners, but we quickly find that this missing persons case leads to murder, betrayal, and the kind of corruption that the Bay City bretheran are only too familiar. Naturally, the wonderful Bernie Ohls makes an appearance, as do a gruesome collection of pugnacious toughs and feckless toffs. Naturally the crumpled and tenacious Marlowe runs rings around all of them with his usual brand of hardboiled wit and double-distilled deduction.
No doubt this book will draw new readers to the Chandler oeuvre, which is no doubt the intention behind this charming time-slip into the world of Philip Marlow. Hurrah to that we say. Start with The Little Sister, The Long Goodbye, and The Big Sleep, also try the short stories Chandler wrote for Pulp magazines like Black Mask—you can get them in collections now, such as the excellent Trouble is my Business. But first, you might want to dip your carefully manicured tootsie in to the brackish waters of nouveau noir from Dublin Ireland—buy The Black-eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black.
We leave you—as it is St Paddy’s day, with a Blackism worthy of Chandler himself. “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.”