Still "Not a Beach Read"
January 2023: More thoughts on Marlowe, The Strand, and Why I Moved to Substack
Welcome to the new newsletter!
Here’s why I moved: I work at keeping the monthly letters punchy. It’s a privilege to have it read, so I don’t waste space. News, recommendations, a few thoughts on whatever’s going on. And done.
That won’t change. But with Substack there’s a venue for writing longer pieces, for those who want to read them. Articles, interviews, book and film reviews, thoughts on craft. And a comments section for responses.
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There’s a paid subscriber option, and if you can spare a few bucks to support this endeavor (not everyone can, and that’s fine), it’s greatly appreciated. In addition to some paid-only writing, I’ll be adding and updating the archive from the last few years.
Years ago, a starred review from Booklist called Last of the Independents “a literary achievement” but also “not a beach read.” The last nine years have borne both those out. I don’t write beach reads, nor do I write CanLit—what I do is contemporary west coast crime fiction.
The work is good, it’s important to me, I’m going to keep at it, this will help.
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Hell and Gone made The Strand Magazine’s Top 25 Mysteries of 2022, calling it “wonderful” and “highly recommended.” Very cool!
I watched the trailer for Marlowe, starring Liam Neeson and directed by Neil Jordan. Casting Diane Kruger as Jessica Lange’s daughter is inspired, and I hope the film is good. Jordan wrote and directed Mona Lisa, one of my all-time favorite films, as well as The Crying Game and the under-appreciated Greta, and Neeson was a solid Matt Scudder in A Walk Among the Tombstones. It’s more than possible this will be a good period adaptation.
But here’s what I’d do with Philip Marlowe:
The setting would be present day LA. Yes, Chandler captured the postwar era, but the stories are about hypocrisy and weakness and corruption. There's plenty of that to go around in 2023.
Marlowe is a PI. Not a cop. Not a lawyer. Not an internet sleuth. A working stiff, someone "trying to make a living and stay reasonably honest," as Chandler once wrote.
There would be female characters and lots of them, and NONE would look or dress or act like a '40s femme fatale. There'd be motive and reason to their violence, not motiveless malignity.
Marlowe's relationship with the police is broadly antagonistic. They don't see him as fundamentally different from the gangsters and cons he associates with, and he's all too aware of the system's ability to grind people down on a whim.
Any fight he gets into, he takes as much damage as he dishes out. Being used to violence doesn't bestow bulletproofing. It just means you're not surprised at how awful people can be to each other.
He'd avail himself of any modern-day work convenience he could--car co-ops, shared office space, Zoom, etc. Marlowe still mostly works face to face, but he's not ignorant of the world around him; he uses it as he sees fit, while disdaining it.
The city is multicultural, and Marlowe is comfortable in it (while always somehow feeling a little out of place.) He'd speak Spanish, maybe a little Japanese or Korean.
The villains would be the bootleggers and racketeers of our day: Oxy heiresses, real estate flippers, corrupt officials who hold onto the passports of their household staff. He'd know what fentanyl and tranq are, maybe be in recovery himself.
What I'd keep above all is Marlowe's voice--sarcastic and humanist, elegant and profane, playing the register between the gutter and the penthouse. Stunned at casual death despite experience. Wry. Funny. Serious.
Taking nothing away from Jordan’s or anyone else's swing at it, that's the Marlowe I'd want to see and read. That's the PI story that resonates with me. And if that sounds something like a Wakeland novel, well, I owe a huge debt to Chandler—most everyone does. The best way to acknowledge that debt, I feel, is not to slavishly copy the decorations of the 1940s, but to look at 2023—and oneself—as unsparingly.
Sunset and Jericho comes out this April.
“Dave Wakeland is back; battered, shot, soul-sick and heartbroken, and as tenaciously single-minded as ever in the pursuit of evil…Wiebe is the absolute master of noir with heart.”
–Iona Whishaw, bestselling author of The Lane Winslow series