Philip Marlowe returns, albeit in a rather superannuated hard-boiled form, in this novel commissioned by the Raymond Chandler estate.
Osborne sets his novel in the late 1980s, when Marlowe is 72 and living in retirement in Mexico. He has one last case to solve, however, one that calls him “to a last effort, a final heroic statement.” Pacific Mutual has recently paid $2 million on a policy for Donald Zinn, recently deceased, but the firm suspects it’s being scammed and that Zinn and his “widow” are planning to live the high life in Mexico. Marlowe arranges to meet Dolores Zinn, and as one might expect, she’s a generation younger than her husband and fatally attractive. Marlowe soon establishes that Zinn is indeed alive and has assumed the identity of one Paul Linder, who recently died under suspicious circumstances. Zinn is a vicious bully whose first impulse is to want to murder Marlowe to get him out of the way of his happy “retirement,” but his wife instead tries to persuade the detective to accept a generous payment and forget about their scheme, for, after all, everyone wins if Marlowe simply reports to Pacific Mutual that he was unable to locate Zinn. Osborne is generally successful at ventriloquizing Chandler. The book features intriguing and shady characters, a convoluted and murky plot, and Marlowe’s attempts to remain untainted in a world pervaded by violence and corruption. Adapting to the times, the detective now has “a small radio transmitter with bugging devices, a pair of opera glasses, and a subminiature Minox camera,” but perhaps most startling is that he’s traded in his .38 for a shikomizue, a razor-sharp sword hidden in his cane.
While there are obvious perils in what Osborne attempts to do here, for the most part he succeeds in re-creating both a beloved character and a decadent ambience.