FICTION//Only to Sleep- Lawrence Osborne*

9781781090572

I love the whole aesthetic of film noir: Bogey and Bacall, trench coats and the brooding darkness. There’s a reason the look of 1940s private eye movies still has a hold on us culturally- it’s cool. It’s because of this coolness that writers such as Raymond Chandler remain popular and why modern writers such as Lawrence Osborne are being hired to carry the baton in the modern age (with the family’s blessing of course.)

I should make an admission here: I’ve never read a Raymond Chandler novel, but I have seen a lot of 1940s movies. I figured I’d be good to go. Plus my husband is an avid reader of Chandler’s work, so I knew I’d have someone to refer to if I needed help. As it was, I was so drawn in, I didn’t need him.

Years after his heyday, private detective Phillip Marlowe is spending his retirement in 1980s California when he’s approached with a juicy case: a man has died, leaving a much younger widow and a hefty insurance payout. They need someone to go and check that everything is legit- and they figure that he’s the man to do it.

The case takes Marlowe through the shady world of dodgy American ex-pats in Mexico: drugs, violence and murder are all commonplace and Marlowe must negotiate this with charm- and the geniality of an old man will apparently get you very far, albeit not unscathed.

It’s an exciting novel, one that put one of the greatest detectives out of his 40s heyday in a world of yuppies and cocaine. It’s a meditation on what it means to age, to watch the world around you change when you don’t necessarily feel any different to the way you did forty years ago. It’s beautifully written, too. It’s well-known that I have a bit of a love affair with Mexican culture and Osborne captures the country- its beauty and its underbelly- with a vivid beauty.

All of the Chandler motifs (whether you know them from the books or the films) are there: the broad, the dodgy figures, the easily swayed staff. It’s a brilliant novel, whether you know the back catalogue or not. If you don’t know Chandler’s other works, this might be the book that leads to find the rest of them.

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