I recently have been engaged in a rereading of the fiction of Raymond Chandler and I decided to read in addition a few books to enhance my enjoyment, including a biography and other works about Chandler. Because Philip Marlowe's world is evoked in such great specificity, I thought it would be nice to look at this photographic exploration of Marlowe's Los Angeles. I have never been to Los Angeles and while I am, like most Americans, familiar with the many looks of Los Angeles because of the film and television industry, I don't have a very precise understanding of how the city is laid out. I know that today East Los Angeles is Hispanic and West Hollywood is a gay area, but too many of the area names are simply that. The same holds true for many of the surrounding suburbs. For instance, I have a very imprecise idea of Santa Barbara. I have no idea if it is stylish or downtrodden or even what it looks like. If set down in L.A. I wouldn't have the foggiest idea of what direction to go to get to U.C.L.A. or the Hollywood Bowl (or for that matter Hollywood) or Dodger Stadium or, really, anything.
I should add that the book's title is a bit of a misnomer. Though there is some attention to relate L.A. to Raymond Chandler, what it really tries to do is relate it to Chandler's alter ego Philip Marlowe. The book's excerpts refer to Marlowe's adventures. It is concerned to illuminate where the scenes from the Marlowe stories are set. Its focus, in other words, is literary and not biographical. Locales are selected for their reference to Marlowe and not to Chandler, though there are a couple of exceptions.
This book helps a great deal in many ways in gaining a better understanding of what specific buildings and even areas look like. My lone complaint is that it makes no attempt whatsoever to show how the various bits connect up. In that regard it is poorly arranged. If you are a native of Los Angeles or know it well, perhaps this would not be an issue, but while I get the look of certain buildings, I don't understand the city. I think the value of the book would have been tremendously enhanced if the photos and excerpts had been arranged more sectionally. A map would have helped, perhaps showing approximately where each place that is referred to is located. I have, for instance, loved the use of the Bradbury Building in various noir productions (though thinking of the Bradbury this week is painful because of ABC's absurd cancellation of PUSHING DAISIES, currently the best show on television, which has used the Bradbury for several locations shots, it standing in for the apartment building where Ned and Chuck and Olive all live) from the Golden Age of Noir (if "noir" is not incompatible with such a vivid color) to the noirish BLADE RUNNER. But I still haven't a clue where the Bradbury stands. Again, if Ward and Silver had included a map and coordinated the excerpts with that map, this would have been a far more useful book than it is.
Still, that one rather major complaint aside, this was a fun book. The selections from Chandler were made judiciously and the photos definitely enhance the enjoyment of the novels and stories. For instance, I read this book immediately after rereading THE BIG SLEEP, FAREWELL MY LOVELY, and THE HIGH WINDOW, but before rereading THE LADY IN THE LAKE. Because of the photos of Puma Lake Dam I had a much better visual grasp of the book's ending than I would have otherwise. And looking back at the other novels I had a better idea of what the Sternwood mansion looked like in THE BIG SLEEP.
This is a fun, pleasant book that suffers from the one organizational weakness I mentioned earlier. But if you are a fan of Chandler and like me unfamiliar with L.A. and would like a better grasp of Philip Marlowe's world, I definitely recommend this.