Book Talk: ‘The Goodbye Coast,’ a new Philip Marlowe
I introduced this column on Sept. 15, 2021, and critiqued four books by a new author, Joe Ide. Now Ide has surprised me with a new character, one who appears at first glance to be from about 80 years ago: Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. However, Ide’s Marlowe has about as much similarity to Chandler’s Marlowe as a certain soap has to an elephant’s tusk. They may both be called ivory, but that’s where the resemblance ends. However, I enjoyed the book, but Ide could have called the protagonist Ralph Smith, and it wouldn’t have made any difference.
This Marlowe managed to get in a couple of years of college before he decided it was a waste of time and joined the LAPD. His father, Emmet, an alcoholic who is on suspension from the force for drinking on the job, tells him, “You’re hard-headed, son, you don’t listen to people who know more than you, another reason why you’ll never be a cop.” His mother concurs with, “No, sweetheart. You won’t last a month.” Marlowe lasted three weeks. So, he decided to become a private investigator, but P.I.’s in L.A. had to have three years of experience in investigative work before getting a license. Emmet hooked his son up with an old friend, Marlowe got his license, and he established his own office in the seedy side of Hollywood.
His client in this tale is Kendra James, a Hollywood star whose career has dwindled and whose husband had been shot to death a couple of weeks before Marlowe was hired. Every bad characteristic of a washed-up movie star that you can imagine is embodied in Kendra. And, her stepdaughter, 17-year-old Cody, is even worse. But she’s gone missing, and Kendra wants her back (and I’m still trying to figure out why).
Marlowe finds Cody easily enough, but someone’s been taking potshots at her, so he stashes the nasty kid with his now-widowed father. Meanwhile, he encounters Ren Stewart, an attractive professor of literature from England, whose ex-husband has absconded with their son and his hiding somewhere in L.A. and trying to break into the movie business. Along with the double plot, there are lots of anecdotes about other cases that Marlowe has handled. I found it best not to worry about trying to connect the anecdotes to the plots. Each plot eventually reappears and the basic story continues.
In a sense, Ide’s Marlowe reminds me more of his previous protagonist, the young, black P.I. called I.Q. (for Isiah Quintabe, as well as for his Sherlock-Holmes method of solving crimes) than of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. The one exception is the current Marlowe’s terse descriptions and metaphors. Here’s his take on his home town: “It had no character, no texture, no architecture, nothing to engage you. L.A. was a hot, endless flatland of streets, telephone poles, strip malls, gas stations, and dry cleaners. Some places were brighter and had taller buildings, but you could hardly call that charm, character, or even interesting….” Perhaps I like that description because that’s the way that I see that sprawling Megalopolis that surrounds Musso and Frank’s, the restaurant which is mentioned often. But the one time that I ate there, I didn’t like it, either.
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Jim Glynn may be contacted at email@example.com.