Man Booker Prize–winning novelist John Banville, already disguised as mystery writer Black (Holy Orders, 2013, etc.), goes under even deeper cover to imitate Raymond Chandler in this flavorsome pastiche.
Nobody knows better than Clare Cavendish that self-styled Hollywood agent Nico Peterson is dead. Clare saw her ex-lover killed by a hit-and-run driver outside the Cahuilla Club two months ago. But she hires peerless shamus Philip Marlowe to find him anyway since—though she doesn’t tell Marlowe this part at first—she’s just seen Nico in San Francisco, clearly alive. Marlowe follows the obvious leads without results. Sgt. Joe Green at Central Homicide is naturally skeptical of the unnamed client’s claim. Nico’s one marginally successful client, starlet Mandy Rogers, says she knows nothing about him, and he wasn’t her agent anyway. Floyd Hanson, the Cahuilla Club manager who identified the corpse, has nothing to add to what he told the cops. The closest thing to a break in the case is Marlowe’s conversation with Nico’s sister, which is interrupted when she’s kidnapped by a pair of Mexicans and later killed. Clearly there’s more to the story than anyone’s telling. But the most suspicious character is (surprise!) Marlowe’s client, who’s clearly up to her mascara in unsavory connections to big money, big crime and the big sleep. Black’s plotting is no better than Chandler’s, but he has Marlowe’s voice down to a fault. Both the dialogue and the narration crawl with overblown, Chandler-esque similes (“He looked like a scaled-down version of Cecil B. DeMille crossed with a retired lion tamer”), and devotees will recognize borrowings from Farewell, My Lovely, The Little Sister and, most unforgivably, The Long Goodbye, which Black’s audacious finale makes just a little bit longer.
The portrait of 1950s LA is less precise than Chandler's, but the aging, reflective Marlowe is appropriately sententious. A treat for fans, even if they end up throwing it across the room.