His publisher announced this week that Irish author John Banville will try to bring Raymond Chandler’s fictional detective Philip Marlowe back from the grave. This is a terrible idea.
You can see why someone thought otherwise.Banville is a Man Booker prize–winning novelist who already moonlights as a mystery novelist under the pseudonym Benjamin Black.
Black’s mysteries are noirish affairs set in '50s Dublin, where everyone lives guilt-drenched, un-fun lives under the bullying thumb of the Catholic Church. His protagonist, Quirk, is a pathologist who occasionally gets roped into crime solving (roughly as often as Black needs to write another book) and who otherwise lives a lonely life, alienated from society in general and just about everyone in particular.
There are rhymes and echoes here. Marlowe was a loner, a private eye in a one-man operation in Los Angeles during the '30s, '40s, and '50s. Chandler, like Banville (and Black to a lesser extent) was a stylist, self-aware and so assured that he was his own best parodist: “Shejerked away from me like a startled fawn might, if I had a startled fawn and it jerked away from me.”
No, even I agree that his vita makes Banville look like the man for the job. If only there were a job. But literary tomb-robbing is no fit occupation for anyone, talented or not. It’s not unethical. It’s just that no good ever comes of it.