Book Review: Playback by Raymond Chandler (1958)

Playback is a novel by Raymond Chandler, published in 1958. It is the last novel featuring the private detective Philip Marlowe, who has appeared in several of Chandler’s other works. Playback is a classic example of Chandler’s hard-boiled style, with Marlowe navigating a complex web of deceit and corruption in the fictional California city of Bay City.

The plot of Playback centers on Marlowe’s investigation of a young woman named Betty Mayfield. Betty is in trouble with a man named Harry Jones, who is trying to blackmail her with compromising photos. Marlowe is hired to retrieve the photos and protect Betty from further harm. However, Marlowe quickly realizes that there is much more to the case than he initially thought. He finds himself drawn into a dangerous world of corruption and intrigue, as he tries to uncover the truth behind Betty’s troubles.

One of the strengths of Playback is Chandler’s writing style. Chandler’s prose is hard-boiled and highly stylized, with vivid descriptions of the seedy underbelly of Bay City. His writing style is often imitated but never duplicated, with a distinctive mix of tough-guy slang, vivid imagery, and sardonic humor. Chandler’s writing style is a key part of what makes Playback such an engaging and entertaining read.

Another strength of Playback is the character of Philip Marlowe. Marlowe is the archetypal hard-boiled private detective, with a cynical worldview, a sharp wit, and a moral code that often puts him at odds with the corrupt world around him. Marlowe is a complex and fascinating character, with a rich inner life that is hinted at but never fully explored. He is a character that readers can root for and identify with, even as he navigates a dangerous and corrupt world.

The plot of Playback is another strong point of the novel. Chandler weaves a complex web of deceit and corruption, with twists and turns that keep the reader guessing until the very end. The plot is well-constructed, with plenty of action and suspense to keep the reader engaged. However, the plot is also somewhat convoluted, with several subplots and minor characters that can be hard to keep track of at times. This is not necessarily a weakness of the novel, but it does require a certain level of attention and concentration on the part of the reader.

One of the weaknesses of Playback is the characterization of some of the minor characters. While Marlowe is a richly drawn and complex character, some of the other characters in the novel are more one-dimensional. This is particularly true of the female characters, who are often portrayed as either seductive or helpless. While this is a common feature of the hard-boiled detective genre, it can be a bit frustrating for modern readers who are used to more nuanced and complex portrayals of female characters.

Another weakness of Playback is the pacing of the novel. While the plot is well-constructed, the pacing can be a bit slow at times. Chandler’s prose is dense and descriptive, which can make the novel feel like it is dragging in places. However, this is a minor flaw in an otherwise engaging and entertaining novel.

Playback is a classic example of the hard-boiled detective genre, with a complex plot, vivid characters, and Chandler’s distinctive writing style. While it is not without its flaws, it is a well-written and entertaining novel that will appeal to fans of the genre. Despite being the last novel featuring Philip Marlowe, Playback is a fitting conclusion to the character’s adventures, and a testament to Chandler’s enduring legacy as one of the greatest writers of crime fiction. You can pick up this classic noir novel from Amazon here.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

One thought on “Book Review: Playback by Raymond Chandler (1958)

  1. I like this one a lot. It was his final book (though I believe there was a later unfinished manuscript) and I found the ending quite moving. It really illustrated Marlowe’s loneliness.

    Liked by 1 person

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