Philip Marlowe

Created by Raymond Chandler (1888-1959)

“If I wasn’t hard, I wouldn’t be alive.
If I couldn’t ever be gentle, I wouldn’t deserve to be alive.”
Marlowe, in Playback

Dick Powell. The screen’s best Marlowe.

What more can I say about PHILIP MARLOWE?

Daly’s Three Gun Mack may have been the first, Race Williams may have introduced the PI to the world and Hammett’s The Continental Op and Sam Spade may have staked out the ambiguous moral code that would fuel the genre for years, but it was Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe that would define for all time who, what, where and why a private eye is.

Traces of Marlowe run from Paul Pine to Jim Rockford to Ms. Tree to Lew Archer to Spenser. It’s all here: the loneliness and infinite sadness to the quick, sarcastic cynical jibes and wisecracks that mask a battered and bruised romantic, the love/hate relationship with the cops, the corruption that exists in all levels of society. Even the office bottle, and the dingy office. It’s all here. Philip Marlowe, for better or worse, is the archetypical private eye. By the time he wrote his famous essay, The Simple Art of Murder” in 1944, and certainly by the time he wrote Playback (1958), even Chandler realized it.

Philip Marlowe was born in Santa Rosa, California, in “that time out of time that allowed him to be 33 in 1933, 42 in 1953, and 43 1/2 in 1958”, according to Bill Henkin. He runs a single man operation out of the Cahuenga Building in Los Angeles. Tall, and big enough to take care of himself, he likes liquor, women, reading, chess and working alone, and is educated enough that he boasts he can speak English “if he’s required to.” He used to work for the district attorney, but was fired for insubordination, thus starting a cliché that still hasn’t run out of steam. How many ex-cops are there out there that seem to have become private eyes?

Chandler first worked out the character of Marlowe in several short stories in Black Mask, featuring a variety of private eyes under different names. Among these pre-heroes were John Dalmas, Carmady, Ted Carmady and Mallory.

Marlowe has been adapted for film, television, radio, comics and various forms of audio by all kinds of writers, sometimes quite successfully, particularly in film and radio, and sometimes rather disappointingly (television).

As the centennial of his birth approached, there was renewed interest in Chandler and a demand for new product, so Marlowe started to appear in new novels and short stories written by other writers, again with mixed results. In 1987, Hiber Conteris wrote an original Marlowe novel, Ten Percent of Life, where Marlowe returns to hunt the killer of Chandler’s literary agent. Unique, to say the least. The following year, Knopf published Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe-A Centennial Celebration, a collection of Marlowe short stories by most of the top names in detective fiction. Stories ranged from merely good to astounding, as various contemporary writers brought their own strengths to bear on ol’ Phil.

The glaring exemption from the list of author’s was Robert B. Parker, then the most successful of private detective fiction writers, whose Spenser was at times so closely modelled on Marlowe as to be a parody. The reason was soon forthcoming — Parker had been at work completing Chandler’s final Marlowe novel, Poodle Springs, wherein Marlowe and Linda get married (Chandler had often mentioned how difficult he had found it to write about Marlowe in a relationship). Given Spenser’s relationship with Susan, the choice of Parker seemed not only right, but natural. The response to the book was decidedly mixed. Purists and other writer’s in the genre screamed. Parker’s own success with Spenser (including a truly mediocre, pretentious television show), and his perceived smugness probably contributed to the negative reaction. There was a lot of talk about audacity, and “how dare he?”

Still, someone must have liked it. It was soon announced that Parker would write a second Marlowe novel, an all-original novel that acted as a sequel to The Big Sleep. When Perchance to Dream appearred in 1991, the grunts of protest rose to howls of anguish from certain quarters. It’s interesting to note all of this was directed at Parker and none at two dozen or so other writers in A Centennial Celebration who had attempted exactly the same thing Parker had, albeit in short story form.

THE EVIDENCE

  • “I see (Marlowe) always in a lonely street, in lonely rooms, puzzled but never quite defeated.”
    — from a letter from Chandler to Maurice Guinness, dated February 21, 1959
  • “I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.”
    Marlowe in Farewell, My Lovely
  • “I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. I don’t like ’em myself. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them long winter evenings.”
    — Marlowe in The Big Sleep
  • “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts ”
    Marlowe in The Big Sleep
  • “I’m a romantic, Bernie. I hear voices crying in the night and I go to see what’s the matter. You don’t make a dime that way. . . No percentage in it at all.”
    Marlowe gives the game away, to a cop buddy
  • “Leave us to do the thinking sweetheart. It takes equipment.”
    Marlowe in The Little Sister
  • “To say goodbye is to die a little.”
    Marlowe in The Long Goodbye

UNDER OATH

  • “[Chandler] wrote as if pain hurt and life mattered.”
    The New Yorker
  • “Chandler seems to have created the culminating American hero: wised up, hopeful, thoughtful, adventurous, sentimental, cynical and rebellious.”
    Robert B. Parker in The New York Times Book Review
  • “Few pleasures in life are as seductive as reading Chandler. When I open one of his books for a quick fact-check, I might not surface until ten chapters later… When the great Bruce Taylor ran San Francisco Mystery Books, he always kept a stack of The Long Goodbye next to a sign, ‘This is the best book in the store.’ Maybe not, but damn close.”
    Vince Emery, The 14 Best Private Eye Novels of All Time (2012)

NOVELS

MARLOWE BY OTHER AUTHORS

  • Ten Percent of Life (1987, by Hiber Conteris)Buy this book
    Marlowe is hired by a Los Angeles Times reporter to help him investigate the suspicious deat of a Holly wood agent. The book is partially narrated by Marlowe; Chandler himself shows up, and Marlowe and he offer plenty of thoughts on politics, screenwriting, detective fiction and Dashiell Hammett. Contreris was a Uruguayan writer who was imprisoned for his political beliefs in the 1970s, when the seeds for this novel were planted.
  • Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe: A Centennial Celebration (1988, edited by Byron Preiss)Buy this book | Kindle it!
    Unwieldy title aside, this kicked off a terrific one-two punch to mark what would have been Chandler’s 100th birthday. Anyone doubting Chandler’s on-going influence — or the reverence in which he’s still held has only to check out this classy package, featuring some of the most popular and accomplished of his disciples paying heart-felt tribute to the master. For most of them, it was a true labour of love — Dick Lochte’s “Sad-Eyed Blonde,”,  was a sequel to “Goldfish,” which he’s long considered Chandler’s best Marlowe short story, and Jonathan Valin, Sara Paretsky, Loren D. Estleman, Robert Campbell, Benjamin M. Schultz, Max Allan Collins, Stuart M. Kaminsky, Robert Crais and all the rest (see below) chip in with stories that do Chandler, Marlowe and themselves justice. And to cap it all off, “The Pencil,” the last Marlowe story Chandler ever wrote, is included as well. Heartily recommended.
  • Poodle Springs (1959/1989; completed by Robert B. Parker)Buy this book
    The original incomplete draft, which was published in Raymond Chandler Speaking, 1984, and complete by Parker in 1989. As thankless a literary task as could be conceived, but Parker conjured up a fair and logical conclusion. As J. Kingston Pierce put it, “We’ll never know whether Chandler could have built any better on his opening.”
  • Perchance to Dream (1991, by Robert B. Parker)Buy this book | Buy the audio
    The not-so-eagerly-awaited sequel to Chandler’s The Big Sleep, this was a major misstep for Parker, amplified the decision to quote large pieces of text from the original. Parker’s prose could only suffer by comparison.
  • The Black-Eyed Blonde (2014; by Benjamin Black)Buy this book | Buy the audio  | Kindle it!
    Booker Prize-winning novelist used his crimewriting alter ego to dig up Marlowe and play with the bones. Whereas Parker, Estleman, Collins, Paretsky, Crais, Kaminsky, Healy, Randisi, Schutz and a slew of others did this way back in 1988-89 as a sort of tribute to mark what would have been Chandler’s 100th birthday, this one smells mostly of ka-ching. As Sarah Weinman wrote in The Nation, “…it’s hard to tell whether this is ersatz Chandler or ersatz Black… (it) exists mainly as a marketing tool for the two business entities jointly listed as holding the book’s copyright: John Banville Inc. and Raymond Chandler Ltd.”
  • Only to Sleep (2018; by Lawrence Osborne)Buy this book | Kindle it!
    Raymond Chandler, Ltd. strikes again, perhaps with an eye to the copyright expiry date, but the big question is: “Who the fuck is Lawrence Osborne?” 

SHORT STORIES

Most of Chandler’s short stories featured earlier prototypes for Marlowe, who went by such monickers as Mallory, Ted Carmady, or John Dalmas , when they had any name at all. When they were later collected in volumes and reprinted, the names were mostly changed to Marlowe, however. So, here’s what are generally available as Marlowe short stories these days, although only the last, “Marlowe Takes on the Syndicate” (aka “Wrong Pidgeon” or “The Pencil”), was actually written as a Marlowe story..

  • Blackmailers Don’t Shoot” (December 1933, Black Mask; Mallory)
  • “Smart-Aleck Kill” (July 1934, Black Mask; Mallory)
  • “Finger Man” (October 1934, Black Mask; Carmady)
  • “Killer in the Rain” (January 1935, Black Mask; Carmady)
  • “Nevada Gas” (June 1935, Black Mask)
  • “Spanish Blood” (November 1935, Black Mask)
  • “Guns at Cyrano’s” (January 1936, Black Mask; Ted Malvern)
  • “The Man Who Liked Dogs” (March 1936, Black Mask; Carmady)
  • “Noon Street Nemesis” (May 30, 1936, Detective Fiction Weekly; aka “Pick-up on Noon Stree”)
  • “Goldfish” (June 1936, Black Mask)
  • “The Curtain” (September 1936, Black Mask; Carmady)
  • “Try the Girl” (January 1937, Black Mask; Carmady)
  • “Mandarin’s Jade” (November 1937, Dime Detective; John Dalmas)
  • “Red Wind” (January 1938, Dime Detective: John Dalmas)
  • “The King in Yellow” (March 1938, Dime Detective)
  • “Bay City Blues” (June 1938; Dime Detective; John Dalmas)
  • “The Lady in the Lake” (January 1939, Dime Detective; John Dalmas)
  • “Pearls Are a Nuisance” (April 1939, Dime Detective)
  • “Trouble Is My Business” (August 1939, Dime Detective; John Dalmas)
  • “I’ll Be Waiting” (October 14, 1939, Saturday Evening Post)
  • “The Bronze Door” (November 1939)
  • “No Crime in the Mountains” (September 1941, Detective Story, John Evans)
  • “Marlowe Takes on the Syndicate” (April 6-10, 1959, London Daily Mail; as “Philip Marlowe’s Last Case” in January 1962, EQMM; as “The Pencil” in September 1965, Argosy; as “Wrong Pidgeon” in February 1969, Manhunt)
  • BY OTHER AUTHORS
    Included in the Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe: A Centennial Celebration (1988, edited by Byron Preiss)

    • “The Perfect Crime” (by Max Allan Collins)
    • “The Black-Eyed Blonde” (by Benjamin M. Schutz)
    • “Gun Music” (by Loren D. Estleman)
    • “Saving Grace” (by Joyce Harrington)
    • “Malibu Tag Team” (by Jonathan Valin)
    • “Sad-Eyed Blonde” (by Dick Lochte)
    • “The Empty Sleeve” (by W.R. Philbrick)
    • “Dealer’s Choice” (by Sara Paretsky)
    • “Red Rock” (by Julie Smith)
    • “The Deepest South” (by Paco Ignacio Taibo II)
    • “Consultation In The Dark” (by Francis M. Nevins)
    • “In the Jungle of Cities” (by Roger L. Simon)
    • “Star Bright” (by John Lutz)
    • “Stardust Kill” (by Simon Brett)
    • “Locker 246” (by Robert J. Randisi)
    • “Bitter Lemons” (by Stuart Kaminsky)
    • “The Man Who Knew Dick Bong” (by Robert Crais)
    • “Essence D’Orient” (by Edward D. Hoch)
    • “In the Line of Duty” (by Jeremiah Healy)
    • “The Alibi” (by Ed Gorman)
    • “The Devil’s Playground” (by James Grady)
    • “Asia” by Eric Lustbader)
    • “Mice” (by Robert Campbell)
    • Included in the 1999 second edition
    • “Sixty-Four Squares” (by J. Madison Davis)
    • “Summer in Idle Valley” (by Roger L. Simon)

COLLECTIONS & OMNIBUS EDITIONS

  • The Simple Art of Murder (1950)Buy this book  | Kindle it!
  • Killer in the Rain (1964)
  • Trouble is My Business (1972)Buy this book
  • Pickup on Noon Street (1972)
  • Collected Stories (2002)Buy this book
    1344 pages – all of his known short fiction at the time
  • The Big Sleep/Farewell, My Lovely/The High WindowBuy this book
    Everyman’s Library omnibus edition with introduction by Diane Johnson.
  • The Lady in the Lake/The Little Sister/The Long Goodbye/PlaybackBuy this book
    Everyman’s Library omnibus edition with introduction by Tom Hiney.

MORE MARLOWE

RELATED LINKS

  • The Many Faces of Philip Marlowe (July 2016, Crimereads)
    Our pal J. Kingston Pierce takes a peek at all the Philip Marlowe books and stories Chandler didn’t write.
  • Shamus: A Tribute to Philip Marlowe
    A great-looking site, unfortunately overloaded with graphics, scripts, and sound files. Almost worth visiting, if you’ve got a lot of patience. Check out “Who is Philip Marlowe?” by Bill Henkin.
  • Raymond Chandler’s Hamletby Jonathan Vos Post.
    More a spoof of hardboiled cliches in general, than Chandler specifically, but still fun. And winner, apparently, of an Honorable Mention in the 1995 International Imitation Raymond Chandler Competition.
  • Al Kaff’s Raymond Chandler Collection
    A fascinating romp (with photos) through one man’s Chandler obsession, featuring first American and first British editions, vintage paperbacks, foreign editions, magazine appearances, various reprints, limited editions, movie related items, reference works, bibliographies, student editions and some ephemera. Sadly, Al will not tell me when he plans to be out of town for a few days, or where he hides his spare key.
  • Raymond Chandler’s Hamlet by Jonathan Van Post
    A short, short story; more a spoof of hardboiled cliches in general, than Chandler specifically, but still fun. Winner of Honorable Mention in the 1995 International Imitation Raymond Chandler Competition.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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