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The Black-Eyed Blonde
Phillip Marow #1
Benjamin Black (aka John Banville)

Henry Holt and Co
March 4, 2014/ ISBN 978-0805098143
Mystery / Private Detective / California / Contemporary-1950s

Reviewed by LJ Roberts


First Sentence: It was one of those Tuesday afternoons in summer when you wonder if the earth has stopped revolving.

PI Phillip Marlow is hired by the lovely and, apparently, wealthy Claire Cavendish to locate her former lover. Marlow quickly learns the man was killed in a hit-and-run; news it seems Mrs. Cavandish already knew. Yet she claims to have seen him alive in San Francisco. Marlow runs into one unexpected event after another in his search to find out what is really going on.

At the very beginning, the author’s voice makes you smile. Black does try to capture the feel of the Golden Age authors but it just never quite rings true. There are cracks in the veneer. Although Black uses terms that are not politically correct for today, they also weren’t accurate for the period. There were small details that were off—straight skirts weren’t called “pencil” skirts in the 50s.

Some of the descriptions in the beginning weren’t bad…”That smile: it was like something she had set a match to a long time ago and then left to smolder on by itself…” but they soon disappeared. It was also painfully clear that this was not written by an American, and certainly not someone who lived and breathed the area as Chandler had done.

Black does capture a bit of Chandler’s dry, ironic voice…””Someone like who?” He seemed to wince; it was probably my grammar.”

The plot’s not bad and there were good surprises, good lines…”The world, when you come down to it, is a scary place…”, but the further one reads, the more it turns from gold, to gold gilt, to brass, to lead, and becomes almost uncomfortable to read.

The Black-Eyed Blond might be a decent read for those who’ve not read the classics. However, to those who have, it really doesn’t hold together. Once again, I find myself believing that when an author dies, should their character.

Reviewed 2015