|Robert B. Parker|
There has been an ongoing battle between the Raymond Chandler fans and those who prefer Dashiell Hammett about the invention of the modern P.I. in fiction. I confess that I’m not well enough read to come down on one side or the other. However, spending a couple of decades in San Francisco, I’m more likely to favor Hammett. It’s a matter of the sprawling suburbs that surround Hollywood versus the mysterious, exotic neighborhoods of the foggy City By The Bay. I prefer the walkable streets of S.F.
Used to be walkable, anyway. In the last few years, age and declining health nudged me from my third floor apartment at the top of a long and high hill. The cost of relocating in one the world’s most beautiful but expensive cities pushed me out, and I’ve ended up in Chandler territory, two hours out of L.A., in Palm Springs. Here I expect to spend my golden years, or platinum years or titanium years. I also expect to murder someone here literarily, perhaps more than one.
Now, after settling “Down Among The Sheltering Palms,” I wanted to read something that took place in my new town to help get my bearings — preferably a P.I. story. And there it was — Poodle Springs, the last of Chandler’s eight Marlowe novels. It was left undone at the famous author’s death in 1959, and finished in 1989 by the popular and prolific Robert B. Parker. I’ve read more than a few of Parker’s Spenser novels over the years. This one reads a whole lot like Spenser, caught in a time machine, a time when Palm (Poodle) Springs was the resort playground for movie stars and gangsters. In this case, a guy fails to pay off a $100,000 IOU. Marlowe is hired to collect. Murder ensues in the town of the rich and playful.
Chandler wrote the first four chapters, Parker the rest. Things have changed in the Marlowe series. The heretofore single-guy and L.A. P.I. has suddenly married. He’s suddenly married a rich woman who delights in trying to make him a “kept-man” (as they used to say) — a theme that would repeat itself in the story. What it reminded me of was Nick and Nora Charles, Hammett’s lovely, witty couple, so witty they turned The Thin Man series of films into a goldmine for Hammett. What was Chandler thinking? Was it simply the time for Philip Marlowe to settle down? Or did Chandler expect to hit the comedy-romance-mystery jackpot? The main difference between the two couples —and Marlowe’s comes more than a decade later — seems to be that while Nick liked the good life provided by his wife, Marlowe was a tad threatened by it. And I’ll give Hammett the edge in the witty repartee department. How does it end? That’s for you to find out.
Poodle Springs is a good, fast read and just what I wanted, a glance at my new home through the eyes of a couple of classic writers and an era I like a lot.