THE MARBLE ORCHARD by William F. Nolan


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A thousand dollars is a lot of 1936 dollars, and even though Raymond Chandler's never walked the mean streets he writes about, he's happy to take the money from self-styled ""Countess"" Carmilla Blastok (n‚e Letty Knibbs of Newark) to find her missing sister Elina--especiaily since he'd like to quiz Elina about the death of her rumored lover, pianist/composer Julian Pascal. The LAPD thinks Julian's death in a Chinese cemetery was a clear case of ritual suicide, but Julian's ex-wife, Cissy, who left him for Chandler years ago, is sure it was murder. With some help from Dashiell Hammett and Erie Stanley Gardner, his buddies from Black Mask (The Black Mask Murders, 1994), Chandler goes after Elina's low-life companion Merv Enright--and walks right into a mulligan stew of fact and fiction, with many scenes he's evidently planning to hoard for his own later novels. Despite clunky cameos by Orson Welles, Hedda Hopper, Charlie Chaplin, William Randolph Hearst, and Shirley Temple, the shaggy story moves along briskly, with detection-on-the-fly very typical of Chandler's own work, and inaccurate social prophecies (""Maybe Los Angeles will someday even lead the way in race relations,"" muses one character) that mark a nice change from the usual 20/20 hindsight of most historical mysteries. It's not just because of his subject that prolific Nolan may well represent the last of the pulp tradition. Black Mask fans will be waiting eagerly for his Erie Stanley Gardner installment.

Pub Date: Jan. 22nd, 1996
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's