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The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel [NOOK Book]

Overview


Raymond Chandler’s incomparable private eye is back, pulled by a seductive young heiress into the most difficult and dangerous case of his career

“It was one of those summer Tuesday afternoons when you begin to wonder if the earth has stopped revolving. The telephone on my desk had the look of something that knows it’s being watched. Traffic trickled by in the street below, and there were a few pedestrians, too, men in hats going nowhere.”

So begins The Black-Eyed Blonde, a new...

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The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel

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Overview


Raymond Chandler’s incomparable private eye is back, pulled by a seductive young heiress into the most difficult and dangerous case of his career

“It was one of those summer Tuesday afternoons when you begin to wonder if the earth has stopped revolving. The telephone on my desk had the look of something that knows it’s being watched. Traffic trickled by in the street below, and there were a few pedestrians, too, men in hats going nowhere.”

So begins The Black-Eyed Blonde, a new novel featuring Philip Marlowe—yes, that Philip Marlowe. Channeling Raymond Chandler, Benjamin Black has brought Marlowe back to life for a new adventure on the mean streets of Bay City, California. It is the early 1950s, Marlowe is as restless and lonely as ever, and business is a little slow. Then a new client is shown in: young, beautiful, and expensively dressed, she wants Marlowe to find her former lover, a man named Nico Peterson. Marlowe sets off on his search, but almost immediately discovers that Peterson’s disappearance is merely the first in a series of bewildering events. Soon he is tangling with one of Bay City’s richest families and developing a singular appreciation for how far they will go to protect their fortune.

Only Benjamin Black, a modern master of the genre, could write a new Philip Marlowe detective novel that has all the panache and charm of the originals while delivering a story that is as sharp and fresh as today’s best crime fiction.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Olen Steinhaeur
Black recreates Marlowe's voice…with such startling mimicry that a reader (this one, at least) can't help cynically seeking out its flaws…The Black-Eyed Blonde could be passed off as a newly discovered Chandler manuscript found in some dusty La Jolla closet, leaving only linguistic detectives to ferret out the fraud…I found The Black-Eyed Blonde entertaining, and any fan of Chandler's work is going to enjoy it.
The New York Times - Janet Maslin
…[Black] does an uncannily good job of filling Marlowe's legendary gumshoes…The Black-Eyed Blonde includes winks and nods to ardent Chandler fans, but the book will work as first-rate noir for anyone…It's remarkable how fresh this book feels while still hewing close to the material on which it's based…to find a writer whose affinity for the genre has been so well established? And who seemed to be channeling Chandler even before he was asked to, while still maintaining a very identifiable, charismatic voice of his own? It's almost too good to be true.
Publishers Weekly
★ 01/13/2014
Black (the pseudonym that John Banville uses for his crime fiction) isn’t the first to tackle the daunting challenge of recreating the distinctive narrative voice of Raymond Chandler’s world-weary, mean streets–walking L.A. private eye, Philip Marlowe. Despite Robert B. Parker’s lengthy experience in the PI genre, his sequel to The Big Sleep, Perchance to Dream, pales in comparison with Black’s pitch-perfect recreation of the character and his time and place. As for the language, Black nails Chandler’s creative and memorable similes and metaphors. When Marlowe shakes hands with someone, “It was like being given a sleek, cool-skinned animal to hold for a moment or two.” The title character, Clare Cavendish, wanders into Marlowe’s office to ask him to trace her lover, Nico Peterson, who disappeared two months earlier. The case appears to wrap up quickly after Marlowe learns that Peterson was the victim of a hit-and-run, but Cavendish has some major revelations in store. While the mystery is well plotted, Black elevates it beyond mere thoughtful homage with a plausible injection of emotion in his wounded lead. Author tour. Agent: Ed Victor, Ed Victor Literary Agency (U.K.). (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"A bull’s-eye."—The New York Times

"Somewhere Raymond Chandler is smiling . . . I loved this book. It was like having an old friend, one you assumed was dead, walk into the room."—Stephen King

"[Black] has revived Chandler's legendary PI Philip Marlowe in a new adventure . . . A perfume heiress hires the shamus to investigate the disappearance of her lover, and the mystery soon opens up under him like a sinkhole . . . Black manages to nail not only Marlowe's voice, but his soul."—Entertainment Weekly

"[Black] channeling Chandler is irresistible—a double whammy of a mystery. Hard to think anyone could add to Chandler with profitable results. But [Black] most definitely gets it done."—Richard Ford

"Terrific fun . . . The Black-Eyed Blonde could be passed off as a newly discovered Chandler manuscript found in some dusty La Jolla closet . . . Any fan of Chandler’s work is going to enjoy it."—The New York Times Book Review

"Half the pleasure of this book, at least for a Chandler fan, is to notice Black getting the little things right . . . Against a dozen other detective novels on my desk, I’ll take a Raymond Chandler any day of the week, even when its written by somebody else—assuming that somebody is Benjamin Black."—All Things Considered, NPR

"It’s vintage L.A., toots: The hot summer, rain on the asphalt, the woman with the lipstick, cigarette ash and alienation, V8 coupes, tough guys, snub-nosed pistols, the ice melting in the bourbon . . . The results are Chandleresque, sure, but you can see [Black's] sense of fun."—The Washington Post

"I opened the book hopefully—and I closed it entirely satisfied, even thrilled . . . It's all there, the Chandler voice: the crisply detailed description and sly similes that set a scene precisely, the world-weary bemusement of the narrator, his gimlet eye for the ladies and the delicately ominous foreshadowing . . . It's clear [Black] does love Marlowe, and he's reminded me why I love him, too."—Tampa Bay Times

"From its pitch-perfect opening sentences, Benjamin Black’s channeling of Raymond Chandler is one of the season’s best mysteries."—The San Francisco Chronicle

"I was impressed by the plotting of The Black-Eye Blonde, its perfect pacing and use of misdirection . . . [Black] nails the spoiled L.A. atmosphere that is Chandler’s forte."—Salon.com

"A tremendously fun and diverting tale . . . The author of a somber but beautifully written series of mysteries set in the same era as Chandler’s novels, Black was a savvy choice for the job. His nimble plotting drives The Black-Eyed Blonde . . . Marlowe, however, remains the undisputed star of the show, a hardened, magnetic presence." —Page Views, New York Daily News

"All of the essential ingredients are there, afloat in a tumbler of Santa Monica sleaze . . . But Mr. Black can also make words do things Chandler could only dream of . . . The fun lies in watching two styles tangle . . . With an artfulness worthy of the original, Mr. Black has made it new, though he doesn’t forget whom he owes."—The New York Observer

"What Black captures in Chandler's voice is the weary twist of ambivalence . . . That baseline of doubt, the whiff of regret and then betrayal, form the essential atmosphere of noir fiction. And Black gets that exactly right."—The Oregonian

"[Black] has largely perfected Chandler's much-mimicked, seldom-bettered knack for similes and one-liners . . . Best of all, though, he conjures the world-weary loneliness of Chandler's creation, a character who, in just seven novels, the world saw far too little of. Banville/Black clearly loves writing this and the fun he's having—his affection for Chandler's world—shines through . . . Entirely irresistible."—The Guardian (UK)

"[The Black-Eyed Blonde] is probably better than an actual Chandler: more coherent, and more consistent, more careful. [Black] is simply a more elegant writer. Chandler was a metaphorical rogue trader; [Black] is a class act."—The New Statesman (UK)

"[The fact that] this novel is so enjoyable is a testament to the effectiveness of the formula that Chandler laboured so hard to perfect."—The Telegraph (UK)

"Seen as a crime novel in its own right it is a cut above anything else out there."—The Irish Times

"Black’s Marlowe caper is in a separate league. It is wonderful, an affectionate tribute and a labour of love that is sure to please Chandler devotees and endear new audiences."—The National (Abu Dhabi)

"Black skillfully references Chandler characters … [and] remarkably, he seems to channel Chandler’s cadence with pithy dialogue, beautifully drawn characters, and a satisfyingly convoluted plot."—Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine

"[Black] brings Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe back to full-blooded life—complete with inner turmoil and honest, hard-boiled dialogue. This is not a pastiche, but the real deal, kicked up a notch with clever traces of irony. It’s tightly plotted, has its share of blunt violence and wise-cracks, as well as descriptions of L.A. that puncture the city's elaborate façade. Banville has been compared to Joyce, and this novel confirms the comparison. You'll find memorable passages that demand to be read aloud. [Banville’s prose] captures perfectly the melancholy soul of Philip Marlowe."—Zoom Street Magazine

"Despite Robert B. Parker’s lengthy experience in the PI genre, his sequel to The Big Sleep, Perchance to Dream, pales in comparison with Black’s pitch-perfect recreation of the character and his time and place. As for the language, Black nails Chandler’s creative and memorable similes and metaphors.... While the mystery is well-plotted, Black elevates it beyond mere thoughtful homage with a plausible injection of emotion in his wounded lead."—Publishers Weekly (boxed and starred review)

"[Black] offers a stylish homage to Raymond Chandler in this tightly written caper . . . The focus . . . is on style and mood, and the Irishman, perhaps surprisingly, nails both. The homage game is a tricky game to play, but Black makes all the right moves. Great fun for Chandlerians."—Booklist

"Black . . . deliver[s] a more complex and satisfying mystery than other authors have done in the past. This latest incarnation of Chandler’s sleuth with appeal to fans of Chandler and Marlowe, but newcomers to one of the first great PIs in crime fiction will find much to enjoy here as well."—Library Journal

"A treat for fans."—Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
01/01/2014
The titular black-eyed blonde of Black's tribute to Raymond Chandler is Philip Marlowe's new client, who wants the detective to find a missing former boyfriend. But Marlowe soon learns that the boyfriend is in the morgue, and the case grows more complicated as he searches from the mansions of the city's wealthiest families to the seediest dive bars to discover why this man is so important to his client. As the bodies pile up, Marlowe struggles to separate the lies from the truth, with some grudging help from his few friends in the police department. With perhaps fewer memorable descriptions that characterized Robert B. Parker's Marlowe novels Poodle Springs and Perchance To Dream, Black (A Death in Summer; Vengeance) does deliver a more complex and satisfying mystery than other authors have done in the past. VERDICT This latest incarnation of Chandler's sleuth will appeal to fans of Chandler and Marlowe, but newcomers to one of the first great PIs in crime fiction will find much to enjoy here as well. [See Prepub Alert, 10/15/13.]—Dan Forrest, Western Kentucky Univ. Libs., Bowling Green
Kirkus Reviews
2014-02-02
Man Booker Prize–winning novelist John Banville, already disguised as mystery writer Black (Holy Orders, 2013, etc.), goes under even deeper cover to imitate Raymond Chandler in this flavorsome pastiche. Nobody knows better than Clare Cavendish that self-styled Hollywood agent Nico Peterson is dead. Clare saw her ex-lover killed by a hit-and-run driver outside the Cahuilla Club two months ago. But she hires peerless shamus Philip Marlowe to find him anyway since—though she doesn't tell Marlowe this part at first—she's just seen Nico in San Francisco, clearly alive. Marlowe follows the obvious leads without results. Sgt. Joe Green at Central Homicide is naturally skeptical of the unnamed client's claim. Nico's one marginally successful client, starlet Mandy Rogers, says she knows nothing about him, and he wasn't her agent anyway. Floyd Hanson, the Cahuilla Club manager who identified the corpse, has nothing to add to what he told the cops. The closest thing to a break in the case is Marlowe's conversation with Nico's sister, which is interrupted when she's kidnapped by a pair of Mexicans and later killed. Clearly there's more to the story than anyone's telling. But the most suspicious character is (surprise!) Marlowe's client, who's clearly up to her mascara in unsavory connections to big money, big crime and the big sleep. Black's plotting is no better than Chandler's, but he has Marlowe's voice down to a fault. Both the dialogue and the narration crawl with overblown, Chandler-esque similes ("He looked like a scaled-down version of Cecil B. DeMille crossed with a retired lion tamer"), and devotees will recognize borrowings from Farewell, My Lovely, The Little Sister and, most unforgivably, The Long Goodbye, which Black's audacious finale makes just a little bit longer. The portrait of 1950s LA is less precise than Chandler's, but the aging, reflective Marlowe is appropriately sententious. A treat for fans, even if they end up throwing it across the room.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Any writer who resurrects Philip Marlowe, the private eye created by Raymond Chandler in his 1939 novel The Big Sleep, is inviting comparison with one of the masters of noir fiction. When Robert B. Parker, for example, wrote his Marlowe novels — Poodle Springs in 1989 and Perchance to Dream in 1991 — no less a critic than Martin Amis accused Parker of reducing Marlowe to an "affable goon." And Parker was an established American crime novelist. John Banville, by contrast, is an acclaimed Irish writer of literary fiction. Writing as Benjamin Black, however, Banville has arguably earned his noir credentials with a series of crime novels, set in murky 1950s Dublin, that feature a predictably wounded, fatalistic hero. Black's novels are deft evocations of a particular place and time, memorable for their atmosphere if less satisfying when it comes to plot and suspense. Now, in The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel, Black trades Dublin's 1950s gloom for California's 1940s heat as he tries his hand at reinventing the sardonic thirty eight year-old gumshoe who, in Chandler's words, hasn't "?a feeling or a scruple in the world" (The Big Sleep). Not one he'll admit to, anyhow.

Black's Marlowe is a softer tough guy. "You get hardened by life knocking away at you since you were old enough to feel heartsore," he laments, "but then comes a knock that's bigger than anything you've experienced so far?" This one is delivered by the blonde of the title, Clare Cavendish, who launches the action by appearing in Marlowe's office looking for help. "That smile," Marlowe notes, "it was like something she had set a match to a long time ago and then left to smolder on by itself."

The laconic grace of Black's descriptions and the syncopated rhythm of his best dialogue (" 'Known him long, your Mr. Peterson?' I asked. 'Not long.' 'How long would not long be?' ") set the dark tone and brisk pace. Clare wants Marlowe to find her erstwhile love, Nico Peterson. Who happens to be dead. Or maybe not. Was Peterson really killed outside the chic night spot where he and Clare met? Or did she just see him on a San Francisco street? Soon Marlowe is ruffling feathers at the Cahuilla Club — where a handshake from the manager is "?like being given a sleek, cool-skinned animal to hold for a moment or two" — and at Clare's sumptuous estate, Langrishe Lodge, which she shares with a buffoonish husband, an Irish mother, and a heroin-addicted brother.

Back on the other side of the tracks, he runs into Peterson's sister and a couple of vicious Mexicans who are also on Peterson's trail. A missing suitcase, a loony villain complete with riding boots and cane, a few corpses, innocent and otherwise, lead Marlowe to the sordid truth and, of course, to heartbreak. "Women are not the only thing I don't understand," he admits. "I don't understand myself, either, not one little bit." Black's plot, unfortunately, has a similar problem. A flimsy thing swathed in atmosphere, its hasty denouement is signaled by the appearance — from behind a curtain, by gad — of an old adversary of Marlowe's whose role must be explained. As Chandler's Marlowe might have said, "Oh, sure."

Anna Mundow, a longtime contributor to The Irish Times and The Boston Globe, has written for The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, among other publications.

Reviewer: Anna Mundow

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805098150
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/4/2014
  • Series: Philip Marlowe Series
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 34,183
  • File size: 588 KB

Meet the Author


Benjamin Black is the pen name of the Man Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville. The author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed series of Quirke novels—including Christine Falls, Vengeance, and Holy Orders—he lives in Dublin.
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Read an Excerpt

1

It was one of those Tuesday afternoons in summer when you wonder if the earth has stopped revolving. The telephone on my desk had the air of something that knows it’s being watched. Cars trickled past in the street below the dusty window of my office, and a few of the good folks of our fair city ambled along the sidewalk, men in hats, mostly, going nowhere. I watched a woman at the corner of Cahuenga and Hollywood, waiting for the light to change. Long legs, a slim cream jacket with high shoulders, navy blue pencil skirt. She wore a hat, too, a skimpy affair that made it seem as if a small bird had alighted on the side of her hair and settled there happily. She looked left and right and left again—she must have been so good when she was a little girl—then crossed the sunlit street, treading gracefully on her own shadow.

So far it had been a lean season. I had done a week playing bodyguard to a guy who had flown in from New York on the clipper. He had a blue jaw and wore a gold wristband and a pinkie ring with a ruby in it as big as a boysenberry. He said he was a businessman and I decided to believe him. He was worried, and sweated a lot, but nothing happened and I got paid. Then Bernie Ohls in the Sheriff’s office put me in touch with a nice little old lady whose hophead son had pinched her late husband’s rare coin collection. I had to apply a little muscle to get the goods back, but nothing serious. There was a coin in there with the head of Alexander the Great on it, and another one showing Cleopatra in profile, with that big nose of hers—what did they all see in her?

The buzzer sounded to announce that the outer door had opened, and I heard a woman walk across the waiting room and pause a moment at the door of my office. The sound of high heels on a wooden floor always gets something going in me. I was about to call to her to come in, using my special deep-toned, you-can-trust-me-I’m-a-detective voice, when she came in anyway, without knocking.

She was taller than she had seemed when I saw her from the window, tall and slender with broad shoulders and trim hips. My type, in other words. The hat she wore had a veil, a dainty visor of spotted black silk that stopped at the tip of her nose—and a nice tip it was, to a very nice nose, aristocratic but not too narrow or too long, and nothing at all like Cleopatra’s jumbo schnozzle. She wore elbow-length gloves, pale cream to match her jacket, and fashioned from the hide of some rare creature that had spent its brief life bounding delicately over Alpine crags. She had a good smile, friendly, so far as it went, and a little lopsided in an attractively sardonic way. Her hair was blond and her eyes were black, black and deep as a mountain lake, the lids exquisitely tapered at their outer corners. A blonde with black eyes—that’s not a combination you get very often. I tried not to look at her legs. Obviously the god of Tuesday afternoons had decided I deserved a little lift.

“The name is Cavendish,” she said.

I invited her to sit down. If I’d known it was me she was coming to call on, I would have brushed my hair and applied a dab of bay rum behind my earlobes. But she had to take me as I was. She didn’t seem to disapprove too much of what she was seeing. She sat down in front of my desk on the chair I had pointed her to and took off her gloves finger by finger, studying me with her steady black eyes.

“What can I do for you, Miss Cavendish?” I asked.

“Mrs.”

“Sorry—Mrs. Cavendish.”

“A friend told me about you.”

“Oh, yes? Good things, I hope.”

I offered her one of the Camels I keep in a box on my desk for clients, but she opened her patent leather purse and took out a silver case and flipped it open with her thumb. Sobranie Black Russian—what else? When I struck a match and offered it across the desk she leaned forward and bent her head, with dipped lashes, and touched a fingertip briefly to the back of my hand. I admired her pearl-pink nail polish, but didn’t say so. She sat back in the chair and crossed her legs under the narrow blue skirt and gave me that coolly appraising look again. She was taking her time in deciding what she should make of me.

“I want you to find someone,” she said.

“Right. Who would that be?”

“A man named Peterson—Nico Peterson.”

“Friend of yours?”

“He used to be my lover.”

If she expected me to swallow my teeth in shock, she was disappointed. “Used to be?” I said.

“Yes. He disappeared, rather mysteriously, without even saying goodbye.”

“When was this?”

“Two months ago.”

Why had she waited so long before coming to me? I decided not to ask her, or not yet, anyway. It gave me a funny feeling, being looked at by those cool eyes behind the veil’s transparent black mesh. It was like being watched through a secret window; watched, and measured.

“You say he disappeared,” I said. “You mean out of your life, or altogether?”

“Both, it seems.”

I waited for more, but she only leaned back a farther inch or so and smiled again. That smile: it was like something she had set a match to a long time ago and then left to smolder on by itself. She had a lovely upper lip, prominent, like a baby’s, soft-looking and a little swollen, as if she had done a lot of kissing recently, and not kissing babies, either. She must have sensed my unease about the veil, and put up a hand now and lifted it away from her face. Without it, the eyes were even more striking, a lustrous shade of seal-black that made something catch in my throat.

“So tell me about him,” I said, “your Mr. Peterson.”

“Tallish, like you. Dark. Handsome, in a weak sort of way. Wears a silly mustache, Don Ameche–style. Dresses nicely, or used to, when I had a say in the matter.”

She had taken a short ebony holder from her purse and was fitting the Black Russian into it. Deft, those fingers; slender, but with strength in them.

“What does he do?” I asked.

She glanced at me with a steely twinkle. “For a living, you mean?” She pondered the question. “He sees people,” she said.

This time I leaned back in my chair. “How do you mean?” I asked.

“Just what I say. Practically every time I saw him, he was about to leave urgently. I gotta see this guy. There’s this guy I gotta go see.” She was a good mimic; I was beginning to get a picture of Mr. Peterson. He didn’t sound like her type.

“A busy fellow, then,” I said.

“His busyness had few results, I’m afraid. At any rate, not results that you’d notice, or that I noticed, anyway. If you ask him, he’ll tell you he’s an agent to the stars. The people he had to see so urgently were usually connected to one of the studios.”

It was interesting, the way she kept switching tenses. All the same, I had the impression that he was very much the past, for her, this Peterson bird. So why did she want him found?

“He’s in the movie business?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t say in. Sort of scrabbling at the edges with his fingertips. He had some success with Mandy Rogers.”

“Should I know the name?”

“Starlet—ingénue, Nico would say. Think Jean Harlow without the talent.”

“Jean Harlow had talent?”

She smiled at that. “Nico is firmly of the belief that all his geese are swans.”

I got out my pipe and filled it. It struck me that the tobacco blend I was using had some Cavendish in it. I decided not to share this happy coincidence with her, imagining the jaded smile and the twitch of disdain at the corner of her mouth that would greet it.

“Known him long, your Mr. Peterson?” I asked.

“Not long.”

“How long would not long be?”

She shrugged, which involved a fractional lift of her right shoulder. “A year?” She made it a question. “Let me see. It was summer when we met. August, maybe.”

“Where was that? That you met, I mean.”

“The Cahuilla Club. Do you know it? It’s in the Palisades. Polo grounds, swimming pools, lots of bright, shiny people. The kind of place that wouldn’t let a shamus like you put his foot inside the electronically controlled gates.” That last bit she didn’t say, but I heard it all the same.

“Your husband know about him? About you and Peterson?”

“I really can’t say.”

“Can’t, or won’t?”

“Can’t.” She glanced down at the cream gloves where she had draped them across her lap. “Mr. Cavendish and I have—what shall I say? An arrangement.”

“Which is?”

“You’re being disingenuous, Mr. Marlowe. I’m sure you know very well the kind of arrangement I mean. My husband likes polo ponies and cocktail waitresses, not necessarily in that order.”

“And you?”

“I like many things. Music, mainly. Mr. Cavendish has two reactions to music, depending on mood and state of sobriety. Either it makes him sick or it makes him laugh. He does not have a melodious laugh.”

I got up from the desk and took my pipe to the window and stood looking out at nothing in particular. In an office across the street, a secretary in a tartan blouse and wearing earphones from a Dictaphone machine was bent over her typewriter, tapping away. I had passed her in the street a few times. Nice little face, shy smile; the kind of girl who lives with her mother and cooks meat loaf for Sunday lunch. This is a lonely town.

“When’s the last time you saw Mr. Peterson?” I asked, still watching Miss Remington at her work. There was silence behind me, and I turned. Obviously, Mrs. Cavendish was not prepared to address herself to anyone’s back. “Don’t mind me,” I said. “I stand at this window a lot, contemplating the world and its ways.”

I came back and sat down again. I put my pipe in the ashtray and clasped my hands together and propped my chin on a couple of knuckles to show her how attentive I could be. She decided to accept this earnest demonstration of my full and unwavering concentration. She said, “I told you when I saw him last—about a month ago.”

“Where was that?”

“At the Cahuilla, as it happens. A Sunday afternoon. My husband was engaged in a particularly strenuous chukker. That’s a—”

“A round in polo. Yes, I know.”

She leaned forward and dropped a few flakes of cigarette ash beside the bowl of my pipe. A faint waft of her perfume came across the desk. It smelled like Chanel No. 5, but then, to me all perfumes smell like Chanel No. 5, or did up to then.

“Did Mr. Peterson give any indication that he was about to decamp?” I asked.

“Decamp? That’s an odd word to use.”

“It seemed less dramatic than disappeared, which was your word.”

She smiled and gave a dry little nod, conceding the point. “He was much as usual,” she said. “A little bit more distracted, perhaps, a little nervous, even—though maybe it only seems that way in hindsight.” I liked the way she talked; it made me think of the ivy-covered walls of venerable colleges, and trust fund details written out on parchment in a copperplate hand. “He certainly didn’t give any strong indication that he was about to”—she smiled again—“decamp.”

I thought for a bit, and let her see me thinking. “Tell me,” I said, “when did you realize he was gone? I mean, when did you decide he had”—now it was my turn to smile—“disappeared?”

“I telephoned him a number of times and got no answer. Then I called at his house. The milk hadn’t been canceled and the newspapers had been piling up on his porch. It wasn’t like him to leave things like that. He was careful, in some ways.”

“Did you go to the police?”

Her eyes widened. “The police?” she said, and I thought she might laugh. “That wouldn’t have done at all. Nico was rather shy of the police, and he would not have thanked me for putting them onto him.”

“Shy in what way?” I asked. “Did he have things to hide?”

“Haven’t we all, Mr. Marlowe?” Again she dilated those lovely lids.

“Depends.”

“On what?”

“On many things.”

This was going nowhere, in ever-increasing circles. “Let me ask you, Mrs. Cavendish,” I said, “what do you think has become of Mr. Peterson?”

Once more she did her infinitesimal shrug. “I don’t know what to think. That’s why I’ve come to you.”

I nodded—sagely, I hoped—then took up my pipe and did some business with it, tamping the dottle, and so on. A tobacco pipe is a very handy prop, when you want to seem thoughtful and wise. “May I ask,” I asked, “why you waited so long before coming to me?”

“Was it a long time? I kept thinking I’d hear from him, that the phone would ring one day and he’d be calling from Mexico or somewhere.”

“Why would he be in Mexico?”

“France, then, the Côte d’Azur. Or somewhere more exotic—Moscow, maybe, Shanghai, I don’t know. Nico liked to travel. It fed his restlessness.” She sat forward a little, showing the faintest trace of impatience. “Will you take the case, Mr. Marlowe?”

“I’ll do what I can,” I said. “But let’s not call it a case, not just yet.”

“What are your terms?”

“The usual.”

“I can’t say I know what the usual is likely to be.”

I hadn’t really thought she would. “A hundred dollars deposit and twenty-five a day plus expenses while I’m making my inquiries.”

“How long will they take, your inquiries?”

“That too depends.”

She was silent for a moment, and again her eyes took on that appraising look, making me squirm a little. “You haven’t asked me anything about myself,” she said.

“I was working my way around to it.”

“Well, let me save you some work. My maiden name is Langrishe. Have you heard of Langrishe Fragrances, Inc.?”

“Of course,” I said. “The perfume company.”

“Dorothea Langrishe is my mother. She was a widow when she came over from Ireland, bringing me with her, and founded the business here in Los Angeles. If you’ve heard of her, then you know how successful she has been. I work for her—or with her, as she’d prefer to say. The result is that I’m quite rich. I want you to find Nico Peterson for me. He’s a poor thing but mine own. I’ll pay you whatever you ask.”

I considered poking at my pipe again but thought it would seem a little obvious the second time around. Instead I gave her a level look, making my eyes go blank. “As I said, Mrs. Cavendish—a hundred down and twenty-five a day, plus expenses. The way I work, every case is a special case.”

She smiled, pursing her lips. “I thought you weren’t going to call it a case, as yet.”

I decided to let her have that one. I pulled open a drawer and brought out a standard contract and pushed it across the desk to her with the tip of one finger. “Take that with you, read it, and if you agree with the terms, sign it and get it back to me. In the meantime, give me Mr. Peterson’s address and phone number. Also anything else you think might be useful to me.”

She gazed at the contract for a moment, as if she were deciding whether to take it or throw it in my face. In the end she picked it up, folded it carefully, and put it in her purse. “He has a place in West Hollywood, off Bay City Boulevard,” she said. She opened her purse again and took out a small leather-bound notebook and a slim gold pencil. She wrote in the notebook briefly, then tore out the page and handed it to me. “Napier Street,” she said. “Keep a sharp eye out or you’ll miss it. Nico prefers secluded spots.”

“On account of being so shy,” I said.

She stood up, while I stayed sitting. I smelled her perfume again. Not Chanel, then, but Langrishe, the name or number of which I would dedicate myself to finding out. “I’ll need a contact for you, too,” I said.

She pointed to the piece of paper in my hand. “I’ve put my telephone number on there. Call me whenever you need to.”

I read her address: 444 Ocean Heights. Had I been alone, I would have whistled. Only the cream get to live out there, on private streets right by the waves.

“I don’t know your name,” I said. “I mean your first name.”

For some reason this brought a mild flush to her cheeks, and she looked down, then quickly up again. “Clare,” she said. “Without an i. I’m called after our native county, in Ireland.” She made a slight, mock-doleful grimace. “My mother is something of a sentimentalist where the old country is concerned.”

I put the notebook page into my wallet, rose, and came from behind the desk. No matter how tall you might be, there are certain women who make you feel shorter than they are. I was looking down on Clare Cavendish, but it felt as if I were looking up. She offered me her hand, and I shook it. It really is something, the first touch between two people, no matter how brief.

I saw her to the elevator, where she gave me a last quick smile and was gone.

Back in my office, I took up my station at the window. Miss Remington was tap-tappeting still, diligent girl that she was. I willed her to look up and see me, but in vain. What would I have done, anyway—waved, like an idiot?

I thought about Clare Cavendish. Something didn’t add up. As a private eye I’m not completely unknown, but why would a daughter of Dorothea Langrishe of Ocean Heights and who knew how many other swell spots choose me to find her missing man? And why, in the first place, had she got herself involved with Nico Peterson, who, if her description of him was accurate, would turn out to be nothing but a cheap grifter in a sharp suit? Long and convoluted questions, and hard to concentrate on while remembering Clare Cavendish’s candid eyes and the amused, knowing light that shone in them.

When I turned, I saw the cigarette holder on the corner of my desk, where she had left it. The ebony was the same glossy blackness as her eyes. She’d forgotten to pay me my retainer, too. It didn’t seem to matter.


Copyright © 2014 by Benjamin Black

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 30, 2014

    I loved this book.  I find this style of writing very intriguing

    I loved this book.  I find this style of writing very intriguing.  I love the Philip Marlowe series and Benjamin Black has hit the nail on the head
    for this style.  I hope he writes more.  If you loved the Dragnet series, you'll love this book.  Yes it goes a little slow, but that's the way Philip Marlowe
    books are written, they give a detailed look at the world around him and into his mind.  I for one am a fan, but I think you should try it and see for yourself,
    then make your own decision.  Thanks Mr. Black

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 22, 2014

    Philip Marlowe--Back in LA-LA Land

    Author Benjamin Black has been a lifetime fan of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe detective stories. Chandler provided the title for this story (and others) in his work diary, but never got into the narrative. Now Black (pseudonym for writer John Banville) has stepped in with a well-tuned ear for the detective's hardboiled vernacular, giving us the thrills and mayhem of 1930's Los Angeles underworld.

    Marlowe's client this time is the gorgeous Clare Cavendish. "That smile: it was like something she had set a match to a long time ago and then left to smolder on by itself," Marlowe recalls.

    Clare's looking for a man named Nico Peterson and wants Marlowe on the case. "Friend of yours?" Marlowe asks."He used to be my lover..."Used to be?"..."Yes. He disappeared rather mysteriously, without ever saying goodbye."

    It isn't long before the two are quibbling over the proper use of language. "Did Mr. Peterson give any indication that he was about to decamp? I asked. "Decamp? That's an odd word to use," she replied. "It seemed less dramatic than 'disappeared,' which was your word," Marlowe counters. And so it goes.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2014

    Good try but try again

    Seams show. You have to really be a fan of the author and i am not. Nero Wolf s are good and Spenser and a couple others but i liked the originals and wanted them to continue like all the sherlock homes stuff.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 5, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    John Banville, the Irish author here writing under his pen name

    John Banville, the Irish author here writing under his pen name of Benjamin Black, has written a book certain to give exquisite pleasure to the many fans of Raymond Chandler and his creation, LA private detective Philip Marlowe with a reputation as a “thinking man’s detective.”. The masterful re-imagining is evident from the first words: “It was one of those Tuesday afternoons in summer when you wonder if the earth has stopped revolving. The telephone on my desk had the air of something that knows it’s being watched. Cars trickled past in the street below the dusty window of my office, and a few of the good folks of our fair city ambled along the sidewalk, men in hats, mostly, going nowhere.”

    The eponymous woman makes her first appearance moments later. “Her hair was blond and her eyes were black, black and deep as a mountain lake, the lids exquisitely tapered at their outer corners. A blonde with black eyes - - that’s not a combination you get very often.” As Marlow later summarized things, he is “hired to look for a guy who was supposed to be dead. Next thing I know I’m up to my knees in corpses, and I damn near became a corpse myself.” What happens in between, taking place in a little more than a week, is laid out in Chandler-esque form, with a wholly unexpected ending. To say that Mr. Banville has “captured” the charm of that author seems inadequate.

    Apparently this title was one that Chandler had listed as a possibility for a future novel, and Mr. Banville has made of it a terrific mystery. He evokes the Marlowe era perfectly, conjuring up memories with names like the Marx Brothers, Paul Whiteman, Lon Chaney, Raymond Burr, and Errol Flynn.

    I highly recommend that you give yourself the deep pleasure of reading this book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2014

    Skylar :)

    Omg this book is so interesting!! I love it

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2014

    Ashleey

    Oh.....

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2014

    Trevor

    Thats what i thought. Al run away.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted April 11, 2014

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    Posted June 15, 2014

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