Fictionalized by Kim Cooper, William Denbow, John Stanley & Kenn Davis, Hiber Conteris, Gaylord Larsen, William F. Nolan & Roger L. Simon
Such is the myth and cultural mojo surrounding Philip Marlowe and his creator that more than one author has taken a crack at fictionalizing Raymond Chandler, and putting him to work as a detective. Some of the attempts have been honourable. Others are trainwrecks — the works of opportunistic hacks trying to piggyback on the reputation of one of the most acclaimed authors in American letters.
In the first, and definitely the least, attempt to fictionalize Chandler, William Denbow recast Chandler as a hard-boiled private eye (not unlike Marlowe) who comes to the rescue of Dashiell Hammett. Wow, just think of it–two great writers trivialized and trashed in one novel! In 101 Knights, Baker and Nietzel gleefully report that Chandler (1977) “earned the dubious distinction of being rated the worst novel among the post-1970 private eye fiction in our national survey of writers and critics.”
I’ve actually read this one, and I concur — it stinks so bad it should come with its own smog alert.
I guess it didn’t scare people off the concept, though, because in 1980 P.I. writers John Stanley and Kenn Davis had Chandler dropping in to help an equally-fictionalized Humphrey Bogart play private eye when a pal is murdered in Bogart’48. Kenn Davis, of course, went on to write the far-more-acclaimed Carver Bascombe series, but Bogart’48 is definitely an acquired taste.
Uruguayan novelist Hiber Conteris fared much better several years later when he wrote an original Marlowe novel, Ten Percent of Life (1987), where Marlowe and Chandler work together to hunt the killer of Chandler’s literary agent. Unique, to say the least.
In Gaylord Larsen’s A Paramount Kill (1988), Raymond Chandler, working at Paramount in 1945, acts as a detective. Presumably between alcoholic blackouts. Publisher’s Weekly tagged it “a loose and casual story, pleasantly untaxing, yet one with a thoroughly unexpected conclusion.”
Perhaps the most auspicious (if not audacious) attempt to fictionalize Chandler, though, was William F. Nolan’s Black Mask Boys series, which featured Chandler and fellow pulp writers Erle Stanley Gardner and Hammett again, getting into all kinds of mischief as amateur sleuths. The second book in the series, The Marble Orchard (1996), featured Chandler, and he appeared in the other two novels as a major supporting player.
In 1999, in conjunction with their new reprint of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, a collection of Marlowe stories by then-contemporary crime writers, ibooks (not the Apple entity) posted the short story “Summer in Idle Valley“ by Roger L. Simon, on their web site. A nice little story about Marlowe running into Chandler and a real-life writer pal of his… Dr. Suess.
The most recent attempt to resurrect ol’ Ray was in The Kept Girl, a well-received 2014 novel by Kim Cooper, who was also responsibe for The Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles released the same year. The novel is set in 1929, and Chandler’s still a few years away from selling his first detective story to Black Mask. He’s a rising young executive in the oil biz who agrees to find out who swindled a colleague’s son. The crime itself was based on actual events, even if Chandler’s involvement is pure fantasy, but the plot does manage to weave in parts of Chandler’s own life, and also features the real-life cop, Tom James, whom many believe was the inspiration for Marlowe. Thankfully, perhaps, Cooper doesn’t try to mimic Chandler’s prose style, but she manages to hit the era dead on, serving up an enthralling slice of LA history wrapped in a clever little crime tale.
Raymond Chandler was, by all accounts, a real person.
- “Another book that’s deservedly forgotten. But that doesn’t mean it’s not interesting. William Denbow no doubt wanted to capitalize on the success of Joe Gores’ Hammett, which came out a couple of years before Chandler. I mean, if it worked for Gores, why not for Denbow? But he decided to double your pleasure by presenting both Hammett and Raymond Chandler in the same novel…. The blurb on the back cover is from Peter McCurtin, who says, “A wild idea but it works. The writing is smooth, the action violent.” The last statement is true. Everything else is a lie, including the words “a” and “the.” (You know who I stole that from, right?) The writing is awful, and the idea doesn’t work at all.”
— Bill Crider (June 2009)
- Chandler (1977, by William Denbow) | Buy this book
- Bogart’48 (1980, by John Stanley and Kenn Davis) | Buy this book
- Ten Percent of Life (1987, by Hiber Conteris) | Buy this book
- A Paramount Kill (1988, by Gaylord Larsen) | Buy this book
- The Black Mask Murders (1994; by William F. Nolan) | Buy this book
- The Marble Orchard (1996; by William F. Nolan; featuring Chandler) | Buy this book
- Sharks Never Sleep (1998; by William F. Nolan) | Buy this book
- The Kept Girl (2014; by Kim Cooper) | Buy the book | Kindle it!
- “Summer in Idle Valley” (1999, ibooks, by Roger L. Simon)
- Rest in Pieces
The Fictionalized Lives of Private Eye Writers