Saturday, March 8, 2014

Benjamin Black's "Black-Eyed Blonde" Offers Soft-Boiled Raymond Chandler

I don't much care for continuation novels. The authors have passed on and their iconic characters, like James Bond and Sherlock Holmes, get plenty of exposure on film and TV. Do we really need to see these well-known characters continue in print as well? A continuation novel is especially hard to accept when the original writer has a singular voice and style. 

Case in point is the new continuation novel featuring Philip Marlowe, the late Raymond Chandler's iconic private eye. Is there a more singular, stylish writer than Chandler?

David L. Ulin, the Los Angeles Times book critic reviewed the Marlowe continuation novel.

Raymond Chandler is among our most stylized writers, an innovator of what we might call high noir, with its cut-glass imagery, its cynical world-weariness (although never ennui). Such a posture defines him — or, more accurately, his detective, Philip Marlowe — as a wise-cracker with repartee as sharp as a fedora's brim.

And yet, the more I read (and re-read) Chandler, the more I appreciate his vision of Los Angeles, the "big angry city" he described as "no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness" in his 1953 novel "The Long Goodbye."

This issue of place, it turns out, is one of the challenges faced by Benjamin Black's "The Black-Eyed Blonde," a new Marlowe book written under the auspices of Chandler's estate. Black is the pseudonym of Man Booker-winning author John Banville, who since 2007 has published a series of crime novels that take place in Dublin, where he lives. As he admits in the acknowledgments, Southern California is a less familiar territory, and one it appears he had no particular inclination to learn.

... That becomes most glaring when Black turns to the city: "I got up from my desk and took my pipe to the window and stood looking out at nothing in particular. In an office across the street, a secretary in a tartan blouse and wearing earphones from a Dictaphone machine was bent over her typewriter, tapping away. I had passed her in the street a few times. Nice little face, shy smile; the kind of girl who lives with her mother and cooks meat loaf for Sunday lunch. This is a lonely town." It's a pleasant pastiche, although it doesn't earn its closing line — but it can't compare to the depth, the nuance, of the real thing.

"When I got home," Chandler writes in "The Long Goodbye," "I mixed a stiff one and stood by the open window in the living room and sipped it and listened to the groundswell of traffic on Laurel Canyon Boulevard. … Far off the banshee wail of police or fire sirens rose and fell, never for very long completely silent. Twenty four hours a day somebody is running, somebody else is trying to catch him. Out there in the night of a thousand crimes, people were dying, being maimed, cut by flying glass, crushed against steering wheels or under heavy tires. People were being beaten, robbed, strangled, raped, and murdered. People were hungry, sick; bored, desperate with loneliness or remorse or fear, angry, cruel, feverish, shaken by sobs."

If it seems unfair to hold "The Black-Eyed Blonde" to such a standard, it's a standard the book demands. Why take on the territory of Chandler when Chandler was so perfectly himself? "The Black-Eyed Blonde" is a competent enough little mystery; the missing persons case leads to murder and betrayal, and the privileged are revealed to be corrupted, as we knew they were.
But that's the thing about Chandler — the mystery was never quite the point.

You can read the rest of the review via the below link:,0,6408768.story?track=rss#axzz2vJl3XG10

You can also read my column on Raymond Chandler via the below link: 

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