Only to Sleep

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This is the third Philip Marlowe novel written entirely by someone other than Raymond Chandler. (First was 1991's Perchance to Dream by Robert B. Parker; second was 2014's The Black-Eyed Blonde by John Banville writing as "Benjamin Black").

It's easy to be cynical about this: the Chandler estate wants to squeeze some bucks out of suckers who love Chandler's private eye and desperately want to know what he's been up to. Worked in my case!

The year is 1988, and Marlowe is an old man, living the expatriate life in Baja California. He's retired, but couple of insurance company guys show up on his doorstep. One of their customers, Donald Zinn, has (apparently) drowned further down Mexico way, and their payout is huge. Could Marlowe kind of check things out to see if they could, well, weasel out of their obligation?

Well, sure. Phil could use a break from retirement lassitude. Some things become immediately apparent: the beneficiary is the Zinn's knockout wife, and she's somewhat less than grief-stricken. Zinn was teetering on the edge of financial ruin. And his body was near-immediately cremated, after a cursory investigation and autopsy by obviously corrupt Mexican officials.

A promising setup, but even this short book (253 pages) seems plot-padded. The author, Lawrence Osborne, explains in his Author's Note that he considered Chandler's plots to be "bewilderingly dreamlike", and decided to emulate that. Unfortunately, this has Marlowe doing things that don't make a lot of sense, like walking into an obvious deadly set-up.

Also: people who expect Chandleresque prose ("It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.”) will probably be disappointed. Instead, the prose seems (to me anyway) overly flowery. As if Marlowe, the narrator, got both more cynical and more grandiloquent in his seventies.


Last Modified 2019-05-19 9:52 AM EDT