Playback – Raymond Chandler

Los Angeles PI Philip Marlowe is mixing business with pleasure – he’s getting paid to follow a lovely mysterious redhead called Eleanor King. And wherever Miss King goes, trouble is sure to follow. But she’s easy on the eye and Marlowe’s happy to do as he’s told. But one dead body later and what started out as a lazy afternoon’s snooping soon becomes a deadly cocktail of blackmail, lies, mistaken identity – and murder.

There are very few series of books with which I feel compelled to collect them specifically based on their covers, but the Philip Marlowe series has such stylish appeal that after reading The Big Sleep, I just had to grab these classy covers before they were reissued.

Reworked from a screenplay – and it shows – written years before, Playback is my least favourite Marlowe novel.  Although tersely written, and straight in with no preamble, I did enjoy the important details picked out by the detectives eye, making for a sparseness of description but one which brings the images given a rich authenticity.

Marlowe is a great character; cynical, intelligent, wary, hard, honest.  He is the greatest strength of the novel, his realist attitude and devotion to what he does allows the reader sympathy with him, despite probably not always agreeing with his life choices.

Although Playback doesn’t have the same impact as earlier novels, most notably, The Big Sleep, The Lady in the Lake, and The Long Goodbye, the length of the story allows one to read through it quickly enough. Its the least compelling in terms of plot twists although there is just enough intricacy for the reader to enjoy the rewarding process of Marlowe teasing apart.

There are still those quality one liner’s Chandler is famous for, which are a pleasure to reread time and again.  It’s also heartening to see that the book has avoided the censoring which seems so popular today.  It is very much a book of its day, and its good to see the reader being allowed to see the words used in the context of the day.

On the dance floor half a dozen couples were throwing themselves around with the reckless abandon of a night watchman with arthritis.

The story is enjoyable enough but of all his seven Marlowe novels, this is by far the least effective and satisfying, lacking complexity. Although it can be read as a stand alone (despite the odd reference to The Long Goodbye,  this is not the best novel to showcase Chandler’s talent. it’s a decent effort but compared to his other novels this is not in the same league.

12 Replies to “Playback – Raymond Chandler”

  1. I can vaguely remember my favorite Chandler line, something about the day, the night, the atmosphere, or something reminding Marlowe of “an old paper cup blowinig through a dirty intersection,” or something like that. Terse, funnily so, and just too tough for words.


    1. I have vague memory of that line too, interestingly. I do love a good pulp classic, it mixes well with other books and is always an diverting segue to the reading journey.


  2. I have three of this series (The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely and The Long Goodbye) and love the covers too. I like the introductions by other thriller writers as well. Thanks for the review, Ste J.


    1. I don’t really read many thrillers but I enjoy the introductions too. It is a classy series, I need to reread the rest when I have time.


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