As only the third author authorized by Raymond Chandler’s estate to write a Philip Marlowe novel, Lawrence Osborne declares in his postscript to “Only to Sleep” (Hogarth) that the task was “perilous.”
After all, even crime-fiction legend Robert B. Parker wasn’t up to it, producing two Marlowe novels that are best forgotten.
But Osborne succeeds brilliantly, largely by sidestepping the temptation to mimic Chandler’s idiosyncratic style and by making no attempt to recreate the swaggering private detective who outsmarted cops and mobsters in the celebrated author’s seven novels and numerous short stories set in Los Angeles in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.
Osborne imagines a melancholy, 72-year-old Marlowe living out his final years in solitude in a Baja Mexico fishing village in the 1980s. Gone is the gumshoe who taunted cops with wisecracks, manhandled gangsters and bedded debutantes.
The new tale opens when two insurance investigators track down Marlowe in Mexico. Their company paid off on a huge life insurance policy, but now they think the supposed victim of a Mexico boating accident might be alive. Could Marlowe lend a hand?
Marlowe agrees, relishing the chance to get back into the game one last time.
After surviving a stabbing, a beating and evenings of heavy drinking, Osborne ‘s Marlowe tracks down his quarry. And “Only to Sleep” captures the dreamlike quality of the original Marlowe novels.