Book Review – ONLY TO SLEEP (2018) by Lawrence Osborne

ONLY TO SLEEP (2018) ***
by Lawrence Osborne
Hardback published by Hogarth, 2018. 250pp.
ISBN: 978-1-7810-9057-2

Image result for Only to Sleep: A Philip Marlowe NovelBlurb: The year is 1988. The place, Baja California. Private Investigator Philip Marlowe – now in his seventy-second year – has been living out his retirement in the terrace bar of the La Fonda hotel. Sipping margaritas, playing cards, his silver-tipped cane at the ready. When in saunter two men dressed like undertakers. With a case that has his name written all over it.  At last Marlowe is back where he belongs. His mission is to investigate Donald Zinn – supposedly drowned off his yacht, leaving a much younger and now very rich wife. Marlowe’s speciality. But is Zinn actually alive? Are the pair living off the spoils? 

This is the fourth attempt to continue Raymond Chandler’s legacy of private investigator Philip Marlowe. None of these works has come anywhere near to replicating the best of Chandler’s work. First, there were two books by Robert B. Parker – Poodle Springs (1989) and Perchance to Dream (1991) – the former completing an unfinished Chandler manuscript, the latter a disappointing sequel to Chandler’s first Marlowe novel,  The Big Sleep (1939). Then in 2014, John Banville (writing as Benjamin Black) produced The Black-Eyed Blonde, which was a pretty good sequel to Chandler’s masterpiece The Long Goodbye (1953). Now we have Lawrence Osborne’s take on Marlowe with Only to Sleep. Osborne has taken the brave decision to write about an ageing Marlowe, 72-years old here. This gives him the opportunity to introduce even more world-weariness into the character. A physically spent force, Marlowe now needs a cane to help him get around. Coaxed out of retirement to investigate a suspicious insurance claim, Marlowe goes to Mexico to find the truth. The book has a slow, deliberate pace which allows Osborne to share Marlowe’s anachronistic view of the world. However, his observations are merely those of a tired old man and lack the bite of his younger self. That may have been Osborne’s intention, to show how age has dulled Marlowe’s caustic cynicism. But much of the charm of Chandler’s creation is lost in the process. So whilst, as per convention, the story is written in the first person from Marlowe’s point of view, it doesn’t feel like this is the same man that inhabited Chandler’s novels  – or even those of Parker and Black. There is little of the biting wit we expect. The mystery itself is less a mystery and more a manhunt. There is also nothing in the unravelling of the plot elements that will surprise the reader. Osborne does, however, capture the hot, sleazy atmosphere of Mexico in the 1980s, drawing on his own experiences. Taken as a detective story, the writing is good and mercifully the page count is traditionally light and we are left with a competent detective novel, for which the only real distinction is its use of an iconic name to sell it.

Book Review – THE BLACK-EYED BLONDE (2014)

THE BLACK-EYED BLONDE by BENJAMIN BLACK (2014, Picador, Paperback, 290pp) ∗∗∗∗
      BlurbMaybe it was time I forgot about Nico Peterson, and his sister, and the Cahuilla Club, and Clare Cavendish. Clare? The rest would be easy to put out of my mind, but not the black-eyed blonde . . . It is the early 1950s. In Los Angeles, Private Detective Philip Marlowe is as restless and lonely as ever, and business is a little slow. Then a new client arrives: young, beautiful, and expensively dressed, Clare Cavendish wants Marlowe to find her former lover, a man named Nico Peterson. Soon Marlowe will find himself not only under the spell of the Black-Eyed Blonde; but tangling with one of Bay City’s richest families – and developing a singular appreciation for how far they will go to protect their fortune . . .

untitled-benjamin-black-7-marlowe-978144723670201John Banville, under the pseudonym of Benjamin Black, takes on the mantle of continuing the literary cases of Philip Marlowe. I’m a huge fan of Raymond Chandler and his iconic creation. Chandler added depth to his hero as the series progressed peaking with the extraordinary The Long Goodbye (1953). It is from that book that Black takes his lead here.

What starts out as a straight-forward mystery becomes linked to events in Marlowe’s past as he unravels the case surrounding the supposed death of a rich socialite’s lover. All is not as it seems and the mystery, which initially unfolds at a steady pace, gathers momentum in its closing chapters through to its surprise conclusion. Black proves himself to be a worthy successor to Chandler and Marlowe is in good hands.