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John Blades. - Resurrecting Philip Marlowe
Robert B. Parker Picks Up Where Raymond Chandler Left Off In 1959
November 28, 1988|By John Blades.
With the death of Raymond Chandler in 1959, his roguish private eye, Philip Marlowe, also came to an especially unfitting end. Recently married to the chic and wealthy Linda Loring, Marlowe was about to get entangled in yet another labyrinthine mystery when Chandler died, leaving only four short chapters of ``The Poodle Springs Story`` complete. Case closed. R.I.P. Philip Marlowe.
But like Nero Wolfe, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes and a handful of other resilient sleuths, Marlowe has refused to stay buried. His latest resurrection will come at the tough but expert hands of Robert B. Parker, himself a private-eye novelist (``A Savage Place``), hired by Putnam Berkley Publishing to polish off Chandler`s unfinished manuscript
The news that Parker will complete ``The Poodle Springs Story`` was particularly welcome and timely, arriving during the 100th anniversary of Chandler`s birth. For the occasion, his private detective also was exhumed by two dozen contemporary mystery writers, from Max Allan Collins to Sara Paretsky, each of whom contributed a story to the recently published anthology, ``Raymond Chandler`s Philip Marlowe: A Centennial Celebration.``
Though invited to contribute a Marlowe story to that volume, Parker declined. ``That seemed too gimmicky and insufficiently respectful,`` explained the author, whose own private eye, Spenser, is almost as widely admired as Marlowe. As such, that makes him a prominent member of a more than slightly dishonorable lineup that includes Sam Spade, Lew Archer and Travis McGee, among numerous others.
Parker didn`t hesitate when he was approached about completing ``The Poodle Springs Story,`` however. ``I agreed to do it because the publisher offered me a lot of money,`` he said. ``It turns your head every time.``
But Parker confessed that his motives weren`t quite so coldblooded or commercial. ``I also agreed out of loyalty to Chandler,`` he said. ``I read
`The Big Sleep` when I was about 14, and it took the top of my head off. As far as I know, I`ve read everything he wrote. I grew up wanting to be Chandler.``
If not the hardest boiled of the private-eye novelists, Parker is surely among the best educated, with a doctorate in English literature from Boston University. Chandler figured prominently in his doctoral thesis, which traced the evolution of the American frontier hero into the modern private detective. Though he may have started out as a Marlowe clone, Spenser quickly evolved into his own man, prowling the mean streets of Boston rather than Los Angeles, along with a sidekick called Hawk. ``Chandler is more aware of social class than I am,`` Parker said. ``Also, I think he`s less optimistic, more committed to the idea of pervasive corruption.``
Before he actually starts to write his Marlowe book, Parker said he expects to have reread Chandler`s seven novels, so he can fully absorb the author`s style. ``I don`t want this to be a Spenser novel under another name. If I do that, I`m sure to get some heat from readers and critics, complaining that I`m meddling with the corpus of a giant.``
Among other reasons, Parker welcomed the opportunity to complete ``The Poodle Springs Story`` so he would be the first to find out what happens. Chandler left him few clues, Parker said, except for the prediction in one of his letters that Marlowe`s marriage to Linda was not likely to be blissful.
Though he already has the novel outlined, Parker wouldn`t offer any clues about how he plans to thicken and resolve the plot. Readers will have to wait until late next year when the book is published. ``It`s a superstition. I refuse to talk about a story before I get it down on paper.``