Raise a glass to Lawrence Osborne, who dares to do something different with Philip Marlowe. Only to Sleep is a brilliant transfer of Raymond Chandler’s seminal PI to the late 1980s, and is a welcome and worthwhile addition to the lore.
In my review of The Black Eyed Blonde — John Banville’s 2014 impressionistic and unessential perpetuation of Marlowe’s story — I questioned the purpose of prolonging Chandler’s legacy through elementary investigations. Banville’s book was fine, but it wasn’t memorable. It was just another hardboiled mystery with — oh, hey! — Philip Marlowe as its protagonist. I couldn’t help but wonder: what’s the point?
So I was naturally wary of Lawrence Osborne’s Philip Marlowe novel. Until I learned of its premise. Set in 1988, a retired Marlowe is living in Baja California when he’s approached by two insurance men who want Marlowe to look into the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Donald Zinn. Bad luck and trouble have always followed Marlowe like a shadow; you’d think by now he would’ve learned to say no. But thank goodness he doesn’t.
Only to Sleep is touched with Chandler’s linguistic flourishes, and is the best non-Chandler Marlowe caper that’s been written, no question. Beyond the central mystery — which itself is enthralling, if not a tad perfunctory — the real joy here is Osborne’s exploration of an older, slower Marlowe, whose wit is as peerless as ever, but who lacks the physicality that made ‘dames’ swoon and his adversaries tremble.
Without a deeply-rooted love of Chandler’s work and a long-time obsession with Marlowe, however, I do wonder how ‘uneducated’ readers will respond to Osborne’s novel. Not that it can’t be enjoyed as a standalone, but its context makes it truly distinctive.
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 6-Sep-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom