"In grad school, "literary" was used as a synonym for "good." You often hear people these days say things like, "The classics were genre fiction," to which a grad school prof would say, "No they weren't -- they were good." If a genre writer wrote a good book, it was considered to have "transcended the genre.""

- J. Mark Bertrand
Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe (Anthology)

I just got in under the wire, acquiring Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe from Amazon. I went to link to it for this review, and discovered the Kindle version was not available. I puzzled over this, since the book is right here on my Kindle device now, and I knew I got it from Amazon. Turns out it's one of those Overdrive books that got removed the other day. So you'll have to either buy a paper copy, or go to Overdrive for the e-book.

What Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe is, is an anthology, first published in the 1980s and expanded in 1999, of original Philip Marlowe stories written by current mystery writers. The contributors contributed their own Marlowe stories, and then added brief appreciations, telling how Chandler's work had influenced their own.

The results are uneven, but entertaining. The authors all attempt to emulate Chandler's style. Some do it better than others. The most interesting thing to notice, for me, was the personal indulgences several of them couldn't seem to resist. Female writers (but not all of them) couldn't help correcting Chandler's portrayal of women, introducing the kind of female characters they wish Chandler had written about. A couple writers couldn't resist injecting politics, something Chandler generally eschewed. “The Empty Sleeve,” by W. R. Philbrick, is interesting for having Philip Marlowe meet his own creator, Raymond Chandler, at a poker game. But he also injects, entirely gratuitously, a certain politician he doesn't like in a sleazy role for which there's no historical warrant I'm aware of. Roger L. Simon, still a liberal when the book was compiled, contributes a slashing indictment of the Hollywood Black List, “In the Jungle of Cities.”

There were some stories I liked quite a lot. Loren D. Estleman, who was born to tell this kind of story, gets the pitch pretty much right in “Gun Music.” “Bitter Lemons” by Stuart M. Kaminsky was also excellent, I thought. I also liked Robert Crais's “The Man Who Knew Dick Bong” very much. You'll note all three authors are already favorites of mine in their usual jobs. Ed Gorman's “The Alibi” was good, inspiring me to check out another book by him, which I'll review soon.

Max Allan Collins says in his note on his “The Perfect Crime,” based on the death of actress Thelma Todd, that it's not just a Nathan Heller mystery with the names changed, but in fact he did change the names and make it a Heller story later on. You can find it in his anthology, Chicago Lightning. (I take it that Collins has a bit of a love-hate relationship with Chandler. Good story anyway.)

If you're a fan of Chandler, or a fan of Hard-Boiled, I think you're likely to enjoy Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. You won't love it all, but there's much of interest here, and much to think about in seeing the classic character through many storytellers' eyes.

Cautions for language and subject matter.


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Comments on "Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe (Anthology)":
1. Max Allan Collins - 03/03/2012 4:10 am EST

The Nate Heller version of the story is rewritten to suit Heller's character and not Marlowe's -- the rewrite wasn't extensive but it did much more than just change the names. I have strictly a love relationship for Chandler, whose influence on me was great. I do find it ridiculous that several generations of mystery writers have slavishly followed Chandler's "down these mean streets" rules for PIs when clearly he was defining his own vision and his own private eye. In the first Nathan Heller novel, TRUE DETECTIVE, one of my goals was to have my very much Marlowe-derived detective break all of Chandler's rules...including despoiling a virgin.

2. Lars Walker - 03/03/2012 9:52 am EST

It's always flattering to have my comments noticed by an author of your eminence, Mr. Collins, even if it's only to be told that I'm wrong.

3. Rich Katz - 07/18/2012 11:04 pm EDT

I bought this book when it first came out and have reread it many times. I am a long-time fan of Chandler (and Hammett and other classic hardboiled/noir writers) and enjoy every one of the stories. A few years ago, at the urging of my wife, I read The Monkey's Raincoat and enjoyed it, recognizing that the author, Robert Crais, wrote my favorite story from this anthology, "The Man Who Knew Dick Bong". In this story, Crais's Marlowe shows a sentimental side that is perfectly meshed with the more familiar tropes and settings. Crais's personal anecdote following the story was inspirational. This is a great addition to anyone's library of hardboiled/noir fiction.

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