Book: “Playback,” by Raymond Chandler

“Playback,” published in 1958, was Raymond Chandler’s last novel. He only wrote 9 of them. Unless you count the unfinished “Poodle Springs,” which Robert Parker completed in 1989 and which I hear isn’t very good. I don’t figure on reading that one.

Chandler wrote 7 novels starring PI Philip Marlowe, plus 2 anthologies of short stories. All nine are published under the Vintage Black Lizard imprint. The first book, “The Big Sleep,” was his most famous, thanks to a movie starring Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe. It was also my introduction to the Black Lizard books; I’ve now read a little over 100 of them.

The sixth Marlowe book, “The Long Goodbye,” though very good, lacked Chandler’s celebrated wit. But a good share of it returned in “Playback,” though still not to the level of his early books. But we’re still talking about Chandler the wordsmith who, witty or dry, can write circles around most anyone.

I really liked “Playback.” It’s a short book, just 167 pages, which I polished off in one day. Marlowe is hired to follow a young lady named Betty Mayfield, beginning at a train station, and see where she goes. He does, and adventures ensue. He tries to get a handle on her story, and why she’s being followed. It seems she’s being blackmailed. There’s another Kansas City PI, a wealthy hotel owner, the obligatory hardnosed policemen, and various other characters. These characters aren’t sharply drawn, but enough to make them interesting.

“Playback” is a simple, straightforward book. No complex plot-lines to keep straight. When the story unfolds, it makes sense. Then comes a nice little surprise, which harks back to “The Long Good-bye.”

I really liked this book. It is tightly written, clever in word usage, has interesting characters, and presents a Marlowe who is not the caustic, humorless fellow of “The Long Goodbye.”

I’ve now finished all nine of Chandler’s books. What a delight he has been.

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