Playback (Phillip Marlowe) Paperback – 31 Mar 2011
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About the Author
Best-known as the creator of the original private eye, Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler was born in Chicago in 1888 and died in 1959. Many of his books have been adapted for the screen, and he is widely regarded as one of the very greatest writers of detective fiction.
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An overriding melancholy, as Marlowe, like Chandler, shows his age. It is 20 years since 'The Big Sleep'. 'Playback' reflects many social changes in this period. Chandler was 70 when he wrote this. He seems to struggle with the extent of the liberalisation that has occurred and how to place Marlowe in this environment.
This is especially true with the description of women. One minute a woman like Vivian Sternwood gave off an erotic chage with a scratch of her knee, but 'Nowadays, she's in the bed while you're struggling with your collar-button'.
After debuting as a 'hard-nose', turning into a 'shop-soiled Galahad', we now have a batchelor pining over the temps perdu. The young lovers, Jack and Lucille, with the symbolic 'unpretentious diamond ring', feature disproportionately as a counterpoint to Marlowe's own batchelor future.
Much more detective 'tradecraft' in this book. It's a very good read but it doesn't hit the heights.
It almost gets away with the idea of the sad lonely PI until Chandler 'bottles it' at the end. As a reader, I felt that reading 'Playback' was rather like 'completing the set' and, in truth, it felt like Chandler was doing the same.
Raymond Chandler was one of the literary giants of the twentieth century. 'The Big Sleep' was perhaps his masterpiece, and all the others are also brilliant. 'Playback', was originally written for Universal as a screenplay. He adapted it into novel form purely because he needed the money. But it is still a good read. It is largely devoid of his usual literary flourishes and we don't get much of a feeling for Marlowe from it. It is half the length of his better works and there is very little of the vivid description and brilliant dialogue that characterize his other work. But it has his usual themes of class and corruption set in an ostensibly dignified Californian community - here it is La Jolla in San Diego which he calls Esmerelda in 'Playback'. Four stars for a weak novel written by one of the literary greats.
The whole book is rather dull and the plot meanders along without much happening; the characters are uninteresting and even Marlowe himself seems devoid of all personality. The ending resolution is unfulfilling and by the end, it seems that Chandler has taken an awfully long time to say nothing. However, certain sections are indeed quite interesting and towards the end, it definitely gets better.
I truly feel terrible for writing this, since I believe that most of Chandler’s other works are amazing, literary greats; but the truth is that this is his weakest book and it is sadly dull and forgettable.
I vaguely remember references to it, and it not being up to par. I think there is something in that. It is fairly simple (not necessarily a bad thing) and fairly short. The plot concerns Marlowe tailing someone for a lawyer for reasons unknown (and never totally made clear). There seem more amorous encounters than in the other books and they seem a bit gratuitous.
What is still there is the evocation of the seedy world of southern California in the early 1950s. This time the location has moved more from urban LA to small resort towns populated by the rich (and the underclass who work for them). A rich old man in a hotel gets the chance to philosophise - and offer some useful information to Marlowe. The cops, for once, mostly seem honest and decent.
Right at the end there is a connection back to "The Long Goodbye". I think that normally the books stand alone and there is no progession from one to another.
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