"I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and left the room."
Three Gun Mack may have been the first, Race Williams may have introduced the PI to the world and The Continental Op and Sam Spade may have staked out the ambiguous moral code that would fuel the genre for years, but it was Raymond Chandler's Marlowe that would define for all time who, what, where and why a private eye is.
Traces of Marlowe run from Paul Pine to Jim Rockford to Ms. Tree to Lew Archer to Spenser. It's all here: the loneliness and infinite sadness to the quick, sarcastic cynical jibes that mask a battered and bruised romantic, the love/hate relationship with the cops, the corruption that exists in all levels of society. It's all here. Philip Marlowe, for better or worse, is the archetypical private eye. By the time he wrote his famous essay, The Simple Art of Murder, even Chandler realized it.
Philip Marlowe was born in Santa Rosa, California, in "that time out of time that allowed him to be 33 in 1933, 42 in 1953, and 43 1/2 in 1958", according to Bill Henkin. He runs a single man operation out of the Cahuenga Building in Los Angeles. Tall, and big enough to take care of himself, he likes liquor, women, reading, chess and working alone, and is educated enough that he boasts he can speak English "if he's required to." He used to work for the district attorney, but was fired for insubordination, thus starting a cliche that still hasn't run out of steam. How many ex-cops are there out there that seem to have become private eyes?
Chandler first worked out the character of Marlowe in several short stories in Black Mask, featuring a variety of private eyes under different names. Among these pre-heroes were John Dalmas, Carmady, Ted Carmady and Mallory.
Marlowe has been adapted for film, television, radio, comics and audiotapes by all kinds of writers, sometimes quite successfully, particularly in film and radio, and sometimes rather disappointingly (television).
As the centennial of his birth approached, there was renewed interest in Chandler and a demand for new product, so Marlowe started to appear in new novels and short stories written by other writers, again with mixed results. In 1987, Hiber Conteris wrote an original Marlowe novel, Ten Percent of Life, where Marlowe returns to hunt the killer of Chandler's literary agent. Unique, to say the least. The following year, Knopf published Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe-A Centennial Celebration, a collection of Marlowe short stories by most of the top names in detective fiction. Stories ranged from merely good to astounding, as various contemporary writers brought their own strengths to bear on ol' Phil.
The glaring exemption from the list of author's was Robert B. Parker, at the time the most successful of all private detective fiction writers, whose Spenser was at times so closely modelled on Marlowe as to be a parody. The reason was soon forthcoming. Parker had been at work completing Chandler's final Marlowe novel, Poodle Springs, wherein Marlowe and Linda get married (Chandler had often mentioned how difficult he had found it to write about Marlowe in a relationship). Given Spenser's relationship with Susan, the choice of Parker seemed not only right, but natural. The response to the book was decidedly mixed. Purists and other writer's in the genre screamed. Parker's own success with Spenser (including a truly mediocre, pretentious television show), and his perceived smugness probably contributed to the negative reaction. There was a lot of talk about audacity, and "how dare he?"
Still, someone must have liked it. It was soon announced that Parker would write a second Marlowe novel, an all-original novel that acted as a sequel to The Big Sleep. When Perchance to Dream appearred in 1991, the grunts of protest rose to howls of anguish from certain quarters. It's interesting to note all of this was directed at Parker and none at two dozen or so other writers in A Centennial Celebration who had attempted exactly the same thing Parker had, albeit in short story form.
-- from a letter from Chandler to Maurice Guinness, dated February 21, 1959
-- Marlowe in The Big Sleep
-- Marlowe in The Big Sleep
-- Marlowe gives the game away, to a cop buddy
-- Marlowe in The Little Sister
Marlowe in The Long Goodbye
-- Vince Emery, The 14 Best Private Eye Novels of All Time (2012)
Marlowe is hired by a Los Angeles Times reporter\ to help him investigate the suspicious deat of a Holly wood agent. The book is partially narrated by Marlowe; Chandler himself shows up, and offers plenty of thoughts on screenwriting, detective fiction and Dashiell Hammett.
The original incomplete draft, which was published in Raymond Chandler Speaking, 1984.
Sequel to Chandler's The Big Sleep
Booker Prize-winning novelist used his crimewriting alter ego to dig up Marlowe and play with the bones. Whereas Parker, Estleman, Collins, Paretsky, Crais, Kaminsky, Healy, Randisi, Schutz and a slew of others did this way back in 1988-89 as a sort of tribute to mark what would have been Chandler's 100th birthday, this one smells mostly of ka-ching.
Who the hell is Lawrence Osborne?
Most of Chandler's short stories featured earlier prototypes for Marlowe, who went by such monickers as Mallory, Ted Carmady, or John Dalmas , when they had any name at all. When they were later collected in volumes and reprinted, the names were mostly changed to Marlowe, however. So, here's what are generally available as Marlowe short stories these days, although only the last, "Marlowe Takes on the Syndicate" (aka "Wrong Pidgeon" or "The Pencil"), was actually written as a Marlowe story..
AND FOR THOSE WHO REALLY, REALLY, REALLY LOVE CHANDLER...
You can't go wrong with this beautiful collection from The Folio Society, who proudly provclaim that "In a world of declining publishing standards, where most books are cheaply printed, and bound using low-grade materials, (we) resolutely set store by traditional values of excellence; for our designers and production personnel the term 'quite good' means 'no good': only the best is good enough."
Certainly, this handsome boxed set, comprising all seven Marlowe novels, long out of print and priced accordingly (I've seen people asking as much as $38,000 for it), is a vivid example of that maxim: these are utterly gorgeous, featuring specially commissioned artwork and an introduction by Chandler biographer Frank MacShane. Sure, you could probably buy the individual volumes, but then you wouldn't be able to see the spines all lined up:
What took 'em so long? This is a no-brainer -- a collection of the wit and wisdom culled from the greatest series of private eye novels ever, offering the "rude wit," two-fisted wisecracks and bruised romanticism Marlowe was known for. A tip of the fedora to Marty Asher for finally doing what needed to be done.
Anyone doubting Chandler's on-going influence -- or the reverence in which he's still held has only to check out this classy package, originally released in 1988 to mark the centennial of Chandler's birth, and featuring some of Chandler's best disciples paying heart-felt tribute to the master. A few of the writers produced possibly some of their best work in this collection. And for more than a few writers, it was a true labour of love -- Dick Lochte, for example, wrote a sequel to "Goldfish," which he's long considered the best Marlowe short story ever. Heartily recommended.
In 1999, ibooks (not the Apple entity) marked the re-release of this classic volume, with a new intro by Robert B. Parker, by posting two previously unavailable Marlowe stories on their web site, now sadly long gone.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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