Few writers had more influence on crime fiction than Raymond Chandler. His seven novels about Los Angeles private detective Philip Marlowe were published in the mid-20th century and have shaped countless contemporary mystery writers.
Chandler influenced me, too. I first read him while I was a college English major and, despite being knee-deep in Chaucer and Joyce, I had a conversion experience that lives on in my abiding love for the mystery novel.
The heart of Chandler’s novels is Marlowe, tough and wisecracking and cynical and smart, and always a man who lives by his own principles. He’s a man who can’t be bought, working in Los Angeles, a city where everything, and everybody, is for sale.
In recent years, several novelists have brought Marlowe back — Robert B. Parker wrote about him twice, in Poodle Springs and Perchance to Dream, as have Benjamin Black (The Black-Eyed Blonde) and Lawrence Osborne (Only to Sleep).
The latest writer to reboot Marlowe is Joe Ide, in his new book The Goodbye Coast.
Ide has won a stack of awards for his first five novels about genius PI Isaiah “IQ” Quintabe, who’s a reimagining of Sherlock Holmes in contemporary Los Angeles.
The Marlowe we meet in The Goodbye Coast echoes Chandler’s original in many ways. He washed out of the police force because of his attitude, he’s a loner without long-term romantic attachments, and he’s a snappy dresser: “He was wearing a dove-gray suit, obviously handmade, black silk tie undone, a milky-white Egyptian cotton shirt, thread count in the 180 to 200 range, and bespoke oxfords, shined but not shiny.”
He’s wearing that outfit as the book begins, when he consults with Hollywood star, or mostly former star, Kendra James about her runaway stepdaughter, Cody. If you’re a Chandler fan, that setup will remind you of The Big Sleep. Although Ide’s title evokes The Long Goodbye, and Kendra’s recently murdered husband, Terry, shares a name with a dead man in that book, The Goodbye Coast resonates in many ways with The Big Sleep. And that bad, bad runaway daughter is one of them.
Kendra is a beauty but a highly unpleasant person — “Grace Kelly without the grace, thought Marlowe.” But Marlowe agrees to take the case.
It doesn’t take him long to find Cody, and then he wishes he could get rid of her. She’s 17, colossally entitled and ruthlessly manipulative. Dealing with her, as one character says, is like “taking a wolverine to the dentist.” And it quickly becomes clear that someone is trying to kill her, too.
Cody refuses to go home to her stepmother’s; she hates Kendra even more than she hates most people and accuses her of murdering Terry. So Marlowe has to find a way to protect her while he figures out exactly what’s going on.
Planning your weekend?
Subscribe to our free Top 5 things to do newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
So he takes her to stay with his father. Wait, Marlowe has a father? In Chandler’s books Marlowe’s past was pretty much blank, and readers learned nothing about his family. Ide takes a different tack, giving Marlowe a father who’s very much alive and kicking.
Emmet Marlowe is a distinguished LAPD homicide detective, currently on suspension because since his beloved wife, Addie, died of cancer he’s been on a three-year bender. But even drunk he’s a smart and experienced cop, and he takes Cody’s case seriously, despite her vitriolic attitude.
Meanwhile, Marlowe accepts another case involving a missing child. A young woman named Ren Stewart has traveled from her home in England to try to find her 7-year-old son, who’s been brought to L.A. by her sketchy ex-husband. Marlowe is smitten: “Dark hair, dark eyes, with an angular, aristocratic face. A young Charlotte Rampling.”
Later, Marlowe will have a chance to admire Ren’s skills with a shotgun. In between will come the Russian gangsters and the Hollywood types who launder their money, and much, much more. It all takes place in a vividly rendered Los Angeles, which Ide, an Angeleno himself, knows as well as Chandler did.
At first I was unsure about Emmet — his character seemed so outside of my idea of Marlowe. But through him Ide offers a thoughtful look at how Marlowe might have come to be the man he is, both in Chandler’s books and in this one. It’s good to have him back.
The Goodbye Coast
By Joe Ide
Mulholland Books, 320 pages, $28