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Playback, by Raymond Chandler (1958)



     I put the drink down on a side table without touching it. Alcohol was no cure for this. Nothing was any cure but the hard inner heart that asked for nothing from anyone.

Some of the crime fiction websites I follow have been noting the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of Raymond Chandler's passing and it kinda put me in the mood for one of his books. Out of the two I hadn't read in a long while (Farewell, My Lovely and Playback) I picked the one I thought needed the extra love.

Marlowe is hired by a lawyer to tail a woman. He isn't given a reason, but since the job doesn't seem life threatening he takes the job. He has to blow his cover, though, when a blackmailer approaches her. Said blackmailer later winds up dead on her hotel room balcony. Naturally, she doesn't know how it got there.

It seemed like death was pretty much on Chandler's mind, which isn't surprising. His wife died in '54, which started his heavy drinking, which led to a suicide attempt in '55. The Long Goodbye - the novel previous to this one - featured an author character who felt like a stand-in for Chandler himself. At one point in this book, Marlowe comes across another character who feels like another stand-in - an older gent who spends his days people-watching in the hotel lobby. He talks to Marlowe about one of the characters he's looking for and then goes off on a tangent so long that one paragraph is longer than a page about death, the existence of God, and the afterlife.

Death aside, this is an easygoing book. Not as complex as Chandler's other novels. Its all so casual that the big mystery sorts itself out without Marlowe's help. The only thing he stops is the beating of another character at the hands of a psychotic hitman.

Not Chandler's best, no. But Raymond Chandler's worst is still better than others.

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