Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black

Henry Holt & Co., 304 pages, $27 (release date - 3/4/14)

Raymond Chandler died 55 years ago. Through 1958, Chandler wrote seven Philip Marlowe novels. Author Robert B. Parker completed one Chandler manuscript and then wrote another of his own creation. Benjamin Black, the crime-writing pseudonym of Irish author John Banville, has hopped the Atlantic puddle and attempted to craft an original Philip Marlowe story.

The year is 1952, in Los Angeles. It’s summer and “There are days in high summer when the sun works on you like a gorilla peeling a banana.”

A black-eyed blonde, Clare Cavendish, enters Marlowe’s office one sultry day and hires him to find her dead boyfriend, Nico Peterson. That’s right, Nico was declared dead after a motor vehicle accident, with his sister identifying the body. That seems pretty dead, but Clare has spotted him wandering the streets of San Francisco. Marlowe salivates and pants so hard, it’s a wonder that Mrs. Cavendish doesn’t need a towel, and he takes the case.

Tracking down the elusive Nico entails visiting some unsavory places and meeting some unsavory people, some of whom are part of the hoity-toity crowd. Indeed, Mrs. Cavendish is part of that crowd. Her mother is the creator of the famous and expensive Langrishe perfumes. Everett Langrishe, Clare’s brother, just languishes and creeps about the estate. Richard Cavendish, Clare’s often-intoxicated husband, languishes and bumbles about the estate.

There’s something that doesn’t sit right with Marlowe, a scratching on his cerebellum; what does a dame like Clare want with a gigolo like Nico. He dismisses this concern in the face of his own class war; society broad Linda Loring wants to marry him. Fortunately, she’s off-camera, as our marriage-shy Sherlock works on his case.

Chandler’s creation Marlowe returns as the alcoholic gumshoe with a predilection for similes. Chandler defined hard-boiled for the writers who followed. Surely most would tip their hats in gratitude for the style, insouciance, terseness, and tough-guy qualities set by Chandler and Hammett. Surely it was a daunting task to write in Chandler’s style, using Chandler’s iconic private eye.

I’m not sure how authentically The Black-Eyed Blonde mimics Chandler’s voice. There isn’t as much sass and humor. (The famous Chandler similes were sometimes tongue-in-cheek after he became noted for them.) Also, there are quite a few references to things Irish and English, including a comparison of one person’s head to the “type of English bread they call a cottage loaf.” Chandler excelled at creating characters like Moose Malone — dim and strong, a lethal combination, and there weren’t such oddities here, except for the butler, Bartlett.

This is the bottom line: The Black-Eyed Blonde was a thoroughly enjoyable story in the fashion of those great noir classics. It was nice to visit Marlowe in his milieu again.

No comments:

Post a Comment