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Onyx reviews: The Black-Eyed Blonde by
Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 04/02/2014
It starts with a dame—books like this always do. The minute Clare
into private investigator Philip Marlowe's office, looking to hire him, he's lost. She comes with
good references (high society, a friend of a friend), but a dubious story: She
wants Marlowe to track down a former lover who vanished.
the femme fatale of the book's title, heiress to a perfume fortune. She and her husband have an understanding,
as she puts it, or an arrangement. The man she describes as her lover, Nico
Peterson, seems beneath her from
Marlowe's perspective, but he agrees to take her case, against his better
Then he finds out the lover has been dead for months. Peterson
was hit by a
car outside a posh club. The driver didn't stop. His sister identified the body,
which was then conveniently cremated. Faced with this information, Clare changes
her story. She knew he was dead—she was at the club the night of the
accident—but she saw Peterson in San Francisco within the past few days.
She still can't explain to Marlowe's satisfaction why she wants him to find
Peterson, but he gamely plows ahead. If Peterson is indeed still alive, he must
have had a good reason for wanting to disappear, and he didn't orchestrate his
death on his own.
He bumps up against his old friendly foes from the LAPD,
cops who don't appreciate Marlowe's interference but who generally respect his
ability to close cases. He gets drugged and beaten up a couple of times, faces
down hoods with guns and tries to figure out why the body count is increasing
daily. There's clearly much more going on here than Clare Cavendish is saying,
but it takes all of Marlowe's skills, endurance and powers of deduction to put
it all together.
Philip Marlowe is, of course, the creation of Raymond Chandler, a
detective featured in The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. By the
same token, Benjamin Black is a creation of Man Booker Prize winning author John
Banville. Other authors have played in Chandler's toybox before, most
notably Robert B. Parker, who completed the unfinished manuscript Poodle
Springs. That collaboration felt like a pastiche or a Spenser novel with the
names changed. In this case, Black is working only from a title that Chandler
noted for possible future use. The story is completely his own, and he ignores
Parker's additions to Marlowe's tale. Though he's from
Ireland—and he does manage to work his heritage into the story from time
to time—Black has the American lingo of the 50s mostly down pat, though a
few phrases betray his origins. There are plenty of astute, dry and generally
bleak observations about Los Angeles, its population, class divisions, and life
in general, and the requisite witty banter and heavy drinking.
Black-Eyed Blonde, set in the 1950s, could be seen as a sequel to The
Long Goodbye, and it contains many references to characters and events from
that novel. Chandler purists may complain that this isn't the real thing, that
no one can imitate or replicate the master, and in that they would be
essentially correct. Black isn't Chandler, but he's a very, very good
approximation, and readers who don't go into the book determined to find the few
false notes should be able to immerse themselves in an environment that is at
once familiar and refreshingly new.
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