Tag: Benjamin Black

The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black

Posted March 28, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Pulp / 6 Comments

The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin BlackTitle: The Black-Eyed Blonde (Goodreads)
Author: Benjamin Black
Series: Philip Marlowe #10
Published: Mantle, 2014
Pages: 256
Genres: Pulp
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Resurrecting iconic literary characters is tricky business and when John Banville (under the pseudonym Benjamin Black) signed on to write another Philip Marlowe novel, I was worried. Most people know I am a huge fan of Marlowe, the hard-boiled detective created by Raymond Chandler, but something in me had to know if The Black-Eyed Blonde was any good. Now I’m left to decide if to review this as a Philip Marlowe novel or cliché pulp.

The premise is simple; a blonde bombshell, Clare Cavendish, seeks out Marlowe to find her missing lover Nico Peterson. If we look at the tropes of pulp fiction, in particular hard-boiled detective novels than we must suspect Clare to be the femme fatale and the case would be full of unexpected twists and turns. In both aspects The Black-Eyed Blonde failed to deliver anything interesting; Clare was attractive and seductive but never really had an air of mystery about her and the case felt too cut and dry.

Now let’s look at the protagonist; clearly not Philip Marlowe but someone trying to impersonate this great detective. Marlowe is a modern day knight in shiny armour; in a world of corruption he is incorruptible. He is also a flawed character; Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe is a loner, bitter, cynical, quick witted with a silver tongue. The Marlowe portrayed here was a much older, slower babbling mess; nothing really rang true. You can look at the amount of alcohol Chandler’s Marlowe drinks and wonder just how a man can function but in this novel while he drank a lot, the Mexican beers don’t sit right. Also you have to wonder about the dialogue; the Marlowe in The Black-Eyed Blonde talked differently, I tried to place the way he spoke and all I could think was this character was from Brooklyn.

Since nothing in this book felt like a Philip Marlowe novel, I tried to read The Black-Eyed Blonde in the same way I would read any other pulp. I tried to separate my love of Philip Marlowe and Raymond Chandler’s writing to give a fair review but it is hard to separate the two. Even if I judge The Black-Eyed Blonde as a standalone novel I still feel like the whole thing was a bit flat. There are some decent moments in this book and I was mildly entertained, however I doubt I will ever read a Benjamin Black novel again based on this experience.

I really want to see more Philip Marlowe stories but everyone who attempts it seems to butcher the character. The Black-Eyed Blonde was better than Perchance to Dream but the bar was set so low that I think Benjamin Black must have tripped over it. Do yourself a favour; stick to Raymond Chandler. If you’ve never read a Philip Marlowe novel start with The Lady in the Lake, it is a good introduction to the character and the style without being overly complex. For me, I may just reread the series (an excuse to blog about them) and try Chandler’s short stories.