With so much Nordic noir around, it’s a relief to return to the granddaddy of them all, the hard-boiled private dick, Philip Marlowe. Perhaps it’s inevitable that Benjamin Black’s reboot of Raymond Chandler’s great creation does not have the bite of Chandler in an age when the casual racism, sexism and downright class snobbery of mid-century America is not easy to articulate if you want to keep an audience sympathetic. But still, Black’s love of Chandler’s harebrained plots, stock characters and corny one-liners produces a tale that is hugely entertaining.
Inevitably this centres on a stunning blonde, Clare Cavendish, who walks into Marlowe’s sleazy downtown office with a missing-person case. It looks too simple to interest the jaded Marlowe, except he falls for the blonde. The ensuing job is anything but simple, and as the body count mounts Marlowe navigates Hollywood starlets, murderous English butlers and West Coast mobsters, none of whom seem willing or able to tell the truth until the final twist. Of course this includes Clare Cavendish herself. Meanwhile the cops stare with increasing disbelief at Marlowe’s implausible claims.
While casual Chandler fans will enjoy the familiar tropes, purists might baulk at the darkness of Chandler’s original character being rendered less intense. It is not meant as an insult for what is a very enjoyable book, but in film terms Black’s hero does sometimes resemble James Garner’s Jim Rockford rather than Humphrey Bogart’s classic Marlowe.
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