Lawrence Os­borne suc­ceeds as au­thor of Philip Mar­lowe novel

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Pastimes - BY BRUCE DESILVA As­so­ci­ated Press

As only the third au­thor ever au­tho­rized by Ray­mond Chan­dler’s es­tate to write a Philip Mar­lowe novel, Lawrence Os­borne de­clares, in his post­script to “Only to Sleep,” that the task was “per­ilous.”

He’s got that right. Af­ter all, even crime fic­tion leg­end Robert B. Parker wasn’t up to it, pro­duc­ing two Mar­lowe nov­els that are best for­got­ten.

But Os­borne suc­ceeds bril­liantly, largely by sidestep­ping the temp­ta­tion to mimic Chan­dler’s idio­syn­cratic style and by mak­ing no at­tempt to recre­ate the swag­ger­ing pri­vate de­tec­tive who out­smarted cops and mob­sters in the cel­e­brated au­thor’s seven nov­els and nu­mer­ous short sto­ries set in Los An­ge­les in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.

In­stead, Os­borne imag­ines a melan­choly, 72year-old Mar­lowe liv­ing out his fi­nal years in soli­tude in a Baja Mex­ico fish­ing vil­lage in the 1980s. Gone is the gumshoe who taunted cops with wise­cracks, man­han­dled gang­sters and bed­ded debu­tantes. Os­borne’s Mar­lowe is too world-weary, and too lame, for that sort of thing, and he no longer turns a pretty girl’s head.

Os­borne also wisely avoids set­ting his story in Los An­ge­les, know­ing that the city it had be­come by the 1980s scarcely re­sem­bled the mean streets that Mar­lowe once fa­mously stalked.

The new tale opens when two in­sur­ance in­ves­ti­ga­tors track down Mar­lowe in Mex­ico. Their com­pany had paid off on a huge life in­sur­ance pol­icy, but they now think the sup­posed vic­tim of a Mex­ico boat­ing ac­ci­dent may be alive. Could Mar­lowe, with his knowl­edge of the coun­try, lend a hand?

Mar­lowe agrees, rel­ish­ing the chance to get back into the game one last time. He sets off in pur­suit, drag­ging his bum leg the length and breadth of Mex­ico, the au­thor vividly por­tray­ing its mountain roads, desert vil­lages, squalid slums and os­ten­ta­tious vil­las.

Os­borne stays true to Chan­dler’s vi­sion in two re­spects: He uses a lot of sim­i­les, and the plot of “Only to Sleep” (the title an echo of Chan­dler’s “The Big Sleep”) cap­tures the dream­like qual­ity of the orig­i­nal Mar­lowe nov­els.

In the end, af­ter sur­viv­ing a stab­bing, a beat­ing and evenings of heavy drink­ing, Os­borne’s Mar­lowe tracks down his quarry. Then, just as Chan­dler’s Mar­lowe would have, he set­tles the af­fair to no one’s sat­is­fac­tion but his own.

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