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The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel (Philip Marlowe Series) Hardcover – March 4, 2014
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He put out his right hand for me to shake. It was like being given a sleek, cool-skinned animal to hold for a moment or two. That must be Philip Marlowe talking, right? It is, sort of. Black (the mystery-writing pseudonym for Irish writer John Banville) offers a stylish homage to Raymond Chandler in this tightly written caper that picks up Marlowe’s life from the point the series ended. Naturally, it begins with a leggy blonde easing her silky body into Marlowe’s office chair and spinning a story that turns out to be about half poppycock. Marlowe takes the bait, of course, and begins to search for a con man whose death may have been exaggerated. The plot is nearly impenetrable in classic Chandler fashion, and there are numerous allusions to the earlier books, including the surprise appearance of a character from The Long Goodbye whose presence will either enrage or enthrall devoted fans. The focus, though, as it was for Chandler, is on style and mood, and the Irishman, perhaps surprisingly, nails both. The homage game is a tricky one to play, but Black makes all the right moves. Great fun for Chandlerians. --Bill Ott
“A first-rate noir…. [Benjamin Black] does an uncannily good job of filling Marlowe's legendary gumshoes…. It's remarkable how fresh this book feels while still hewing close to the material on which it's based…. Mr. Black has…hit a bull's-eye.” ―Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“[Black] has revived Chandler's legendary PI Philip Marlowe in a new adventure…. A perfume heiress hires the shamus to investigate the disappearance of her lover, and the mystery soon opens up under him like a sinkhole…. Black manages to nail not only Marlowe's voice, but his soul.” ―Entertainment Weekly
“Terrific fun…The Black-Eyed Blonde could be passed off as a newly discovered Chandler manuscript found in some dusty La Jolla closet…. Any fan of Chandler's work is going to enjoy it.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“Half the pleasure of this book, at least for a Chandler fan, is to notice Black getting the little things right…. Against a dozen other detective novels on my desk, I'll take a Raymond Chandler any day of the week, even when its written by somebody else--assuming that somebody is Benjamin Black.” ―All Things Considered, NPR
“It's vintage L.A., toots: The hot summer, rain on the asphalt, the woman with the lipstick, cigarette ash and alienation, V8 coupes, tough guys, snub-nosed pistols, the ice melting in the bourbon… The results are Chandleresque, sure, but you can see Banville's sense of fun.” ―The Washington Post
“I opened the book hopefully--and I closed it entirely satisfied, even thrilled…. It's all there, the Chandler voice: the crisply detailed description and sly similes that set a scene precisely, the world-weary bemusement of the narrator, his gimlet eye for the ladies and the delicately ominous foreshadowing…. It's clear Banville does love Marlowe, and he's reminded me why I love him, too.” ―Tampa Bay Times
“From its pitch-perfect opening sentences, Benjamin Black's channeling of Raymond Chandler is one of the season's best mysteries.” ―The San Francisco Chronicle
“I was impressed by the plotting of The Black-Eye Blonde, its perfect pacing and use of misdirection.... Banville nails the spoiled L.A. atmosphere that is Chandler's forte.” ―Salon.com
“A tremendously fun and diverting tale…The author of a somber but beautifully written series of mysteries set in the same era as Chandler's novels, Black was a savvy choice for the job. His nimble plotting drives The Black-Eyed Blonde…Marlowe, however, remains the undisputed star of the show, a hardened, magnetic presence.” ―Page Views, New York Daily News
“All of the essential ingredients are there, afloat in a tumbler of Santa Monica sleaze…. But Mr. Black can also make words do things Chandler could only dream of…. The fun lies in watching two styles tangle…. With an artfulness worthy of the original, Mr. Black has made it new, though he doesn't forget whom he owes.” ―The New York Observer
“What Black captures in Chandler's voice is the weary twist of ambivalence…. That baseline of doubt, the whiff of regret and then betrayal, form the essential atmosphere of noir fiction. And Black gets that exactly right.” ―The Oregonian
“Banville has largely perfected Chandler's much-mimicked, seldom-bettered knack for similes and one-liners…. Best of all, though, he conjures the world-weary loneliness of Chandler's creation, a character who, in just seven novels, the world saw far too little of. Banville/Black clearly loves writing this and the fun he's having – his affection for Chandler's world – shines through….Entirely irresistible.” ―The Guardian (UK)
“[The Black-Eyed Blonde] is probably better than an actual Chandler: more coherent, and more consistent, more careful. Banville is simply a more elegant writer. Chandler was a metaphorical rogue trader; Banville is a class act.” ―The New Statesman (UK)
“[The fact that] this novel is so enjoyable is a testament to the effectiveness of the formula that Chandler laboured so hard to perfect.” ―The Telegraph (UK)
“Seen as a crime novel in its own right it is a cut above anything else out there.” ―The Irish Times
“Black's Marlowe caper is in a separate league. It is wonderful, an affectionate tribute and a labour of love that is sure to please Chandler devotees and endear new audiences.” ―The National (Abu Dhabi)
“Black skillfully references Chandler characters… [and] remarkably, he seems to channel Chandler's cadence with pithy dialogue, beautifully drawn characters, and a satisfyingly convoluted plot.” ―Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine
“[Banville] brings Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe back to full-blooded life--complete with inner turmoil and honest, hard-boiled dialogue. This is not a pastiche, but the real deal, kicked up a notch with clever traces of irony. It's tightly plotted, has its share of blunt violence and wise-cracks, as well as descriptions of L.A. that puncture the city's elaborate façade. Banville has been compared to Joyce, and this novel confirms the comparison. You'll find memorable passages that demand to be read aloud. [Banville's prose] captures perfectly the melancholy soul of Philip Marlowe.” ―Zoom Street Magazine
“Despite Robert B. Parker's lengthy experience in the PI genre, his sequel to The Big Sleep, Perchance to Dream, pales in comparison with Black's pitch-perfect recreation of the character and his time and place. As for the language, Black nails Chandler's creative and memorable similes and metaphors.... While the mystery is well-plotted, Black elevates it beyond mere thoughtful homage with a plausible injection of emotion in his wounded lead.” ―Publishers Weekly (boxed and starred review)
“[Black] offers a stylish homage to Raymond Chandler in this tightly written caper…. The focus…is on style and mood, and the Irishman, perhaps surprisingly, nails both. The homage game is a tricky game to play, but Black makes all the right moves. Great fun for Chandlerians.” ―Booklist
“Black…deliver[s] a more complex and satisfying mystery than other authors have done in the past. This latest incarnation of Chandler's sleuth with appeal to fans of Chandler and Marlowe, but newcomers to one of the first great PIs in crime fiction will find much to enjoy here as well.” ―Library Journal
“A treat for fans.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Somewhere Raymond Chandler is smiling, because this is a beautifully rendered hardboiled novel that echoes Chandler's melancholy at perfect pitch. The story is great, but what amazed me is how John Banville caught the cumulative effect Chandler's prose had on readers. It's hard to quantify, but it's also what separated the Marlowe novels from the general run of noir (which included some damn fine novelists, like David Goodis and Jim Thompson). The sadness runs deep. I loved this book. It was like having an old friend, one you assumed was dead, walk into the room. Kind of like Terry Lennox, hiding behind those drapes.” ―Stephen King
“Banville channeling Chandler is irresistible--a double whammy of a mystery. Hard to think anyone could add to Chandler with profitable results. But Banville most definitely gets it done.” ―Richard Ford
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This is a decent enough detective story, but its narrator is simply not Marlowe. Banville has a crack at reproducing the distinctive, laconic narrative style, but it's not right at all, I'm afraid. Chandler was a truly great writer of English, in my view, and it would be unfair to criticise another writer for not reproducing his style exactly, but it seems to me that Banville hasn't let go sufficiently of his own style (which is excellent in its own way) to allow Marlowe to emerge in any sort of convincing form.
Banville and Chandler are both masters of description but in very different ways. For example, Banville's narrator in Ancient Light describes a character thus: "She really is of the most remarkable shape, and might have been assembled from a collection of cardboard boxes of varying sizes that were first left out in the rain and then piled soggily any old way one on top of another." Marlowe's description of Moose Molloy, however, begins, "He was a big man but not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck." They are two brilliant but wholly different styles. It seems that Banville can't quite subordinate his own style to Chandler's and the result is that Marlowe's dry, ironic voice is replaced by what reads like a pastiche of a deservedly forgotten 1950s English or Irish detective novel.
For example, very early on his client refuses to respond because Marlowe is looking out of the window. He says, '"Don't mind me,' I said, 'I stand at this window a lot, contemplating the world and its ways."' Well, Marlowe would stand at the window in that way, but he would never, ever, use the hackneyed and clumsy phrase "contemplating the world and its ways" and there are dozens of other similar examples. In just the next few pages he says "...if you consider Buckingham Palace a modest little abode," "... I didn't think I should light up in this lofty glass edifice," and so on. Little abode? Light up? Edifice? Not from Marlowe. And "I was bent on staying footloose and fancy free," is just stale cliché unworthy of either Banville or Chandler, quite apart from being utterly un-Marlowe. The tone is all wrong throughout, the snappy wit is replaced by plodding, clumsy irony and the voice - the absolutely vital element in Marlowe - doesn't ring true at all.
I'm sorry to be so critical of an author whom I admire and of a book which, as a crime novel, isn't bad, but trying to make it a Marlowe novel was a grave mistake, I'm afraid. To those of us who know and love Chandler's original books and have followed Marlowe as he scoops a drunk Terry Lennox off the sidewalk, causes Mr Lindsay Marriott to look as though he had swallowed a bee, throws Carmen Sternwood out of his bed and through a thousand other things, this simply won't do. Readers who don't know Chandler might enjoy the book, but if you know the originals my advice is to leave this one well alone.
Reviewing the ratings surprised me by the mediocre average. Perhaps some readers expected to exactly read Chandler. Sometimes I, too, object to "spin offs." (Sorry for that TV-Movie term.)
I enjoyed, as stated above, the depth of character insights and will cite a few keeping in mind to not include spoilers.
>>>>"I think she really had lost the thread. It crossed my mind that maybe she didn't know any more than I did, that maybe her hiring me . . . really had no connection with the rest of the stuff that followed. It was possible, after all. Life is far more messy and disconnected than we let ourselves admit. Wanting things to make sene and be nice an orderly, we keep making up plots and forcing them on the way things really are. It's one of our weaknesses, but we cling to it for dear life, since witout it there'd be no life at all, dear or otherwise."
"It was true: she did seem to be thinking of someone else, the same someone she had been thinking of that night in her bedroom, though I didn't know how I had guessed it. The mind has doors that it insists on leaning against and keeping firmly shut, until a day comes when what's outside can be resisted no longer, and the hinges give way and the thing bursts open and all kinds of stuff comes rumbling in." To use a cliche: Denial is NOT a river in Africa.
"I had only to look at [the man he had been hired to find] to see those mean eyes and hear his whining tone, to know she wouldn't have touched him with her ebony cigarette holder. No, there was someone else, and now I knew who it was. I'd known for some time, I suppose, but you can know something and at the same time not know it. It's one of the things that help us put up with our lot in life and not go crazy."
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“Benjamin Black” is the pen name of novelist John Banville who lives in Dublin Ireland and wrote a best-selling series of novels.Read more