At the start of the new year, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced his 2015 resolution: to read a different book every fortnight. Upon hearing this, we Tweeted our support for his initiative and heartily accepted his invitation to join in. Alas, keeping up to the task, we are all on book number seven. While these hundreds of pages have taken us on journeys far and wide, through the imaginations of some real creative geniuses, the latest story to be devoured is The Black-Eyed Blonde, also part of the Waterstones Book Club.
Benjamin Black, pen name for John Banville (winner of the Man Booker Prize), tells the tale of private investigator Philip Marlowe on a missing persons case, set against the alluring backdrop of 1950s Los Angeles. Marlowe is a character originally developed and devised by Raymond Chandler, expertly and effortlessly brought to life once more in this short new novel. Growing up on Agatha Christie's murder mystery novels, this genre has always held a personal place of prime importance in the pantheon of writing styles and there is an almost joyful de-sensitisation to living vicariously through the life of a detective on paper.
The Black-Eyed Blonde is transportive and fun, narrated by Marlowe as he encounters an array of colourful characters who he describes in perfect detail with simple yet evocative language - none more so than the black-eyed blonde herself... As the reader follows Marlowe's adventures through the heat-soaked City of Angels, the plot itself is not so much gripping as a catalyst for these escapades and the biggest twist - which comes at the end, naturally - is not so mind-bogglingly genius as to consolidate the previous 200 pages. The rather underwhelming finale of the wild-goose chase is, however, satisfactory in that the journey is enjoyable regardless of the final destination. Black's biggest achievement is in creating the characters, both enigmatic and flamboyant, the scenic landscape of a city in its iconic youth and a vivid linguistic framework richly peppered with 50s slang. All of these elements combined make for an effortless and entertaining read.