Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Big Begorrah

Most Raymond Chandler (right) fans will be aware that the author spent time in his youth in Waterford on the south coast of Ireland, but this little snippet from suggests that he was fonder of the place that we’ve been given to believe. In fact, he may have been planning to set a Marlowe novel there. To wit:
The Waterford writer, Bill Long, made Chandler’s acquaintance in London in 1958 when they lived two doors apart in Chelsea. Being neighbours, they knew each other by sight although they had never spoken. One rainy day, while Long was waiting for a bus, Chandler’s limousine pulled up and Chandler’s driver asked Long if he needed a lift. When Chandler heard Long speak he became agitated and, saying that he had an ear for dialects, he guessed that Long came from Waterford. Long wrote that Chandler was quite visibly moved on hearing that he was correct. Chandler spoke of his mother and her family and said that he remembered how snobbish and bigoted his mother’s people, the Thorntons, were, especially about class and Catholicism. Everyone who worked for them had to be Protestant. Chandler admitted that he had inherited those faults also, and that he was very class-conscious. He recalled his Uncle Ernest as being a regular tyrant. He concluded by saying that he always had a good time in Waterford.
  Chandler had parties in his house every week where the ‘beautiful’ people would gather. He was seventy at that time, a widower and in poor health, but he was a kind, gracious and generous host. Crowds tired him and, often, he and Long would leave the party-goers and retire to Chandlers study where, invariably, Chandler wanted to talk about Waterford. He would ask Long to tell him about the Waterford of Long’s youth, forty years after Chandler had known it. Long said that Chandler would often take pencil and paper, and make lists of streets and squares and laneways of the old city, just as James Joyce did in recalling Dublin. Chandler loved to talk about the Port and of the ships that traded in and out of it. He spoke often about the ‘big houses’ in Waterford that he had visited with his mother and Uncle Ernest, whose law firm handled the legal business for the owners, all of them overwhelmingly Protestant of course.
  Chandler often spoke about Power’s second-hand bookshop that he frequented in Waterford. This was the famous “Sticky Back” Power’s shop, known to several generations of Waterford people. Once, while talking about the bookshop, Chandler became quite emotional and told Long how much the old city meant to him. He said that of all the places he had lived in (and he stressed the word all) Waterford was the place that drew him back, in his mind, all the time. Chandler startled Long, on one occasion when he was talking about “Sticky Back’s”, by saying that he had been thinking about the old bookshop and had come up with an idea for a new Philip Marlowe novel. He thought it would be a wonderful idea to use the shop, and the maze of streets and lanes surrounding it, as a setting for the novel. He outlined the plot.

Marlowe is visiting Ireland and he stops in Waterford for a few days. He visits a bar on the quays in Waterford and there he witnesses a fight between sailors from different ships. The next day he hears that one of the sailors from the fight has been murdered and the body was found slumped in Sticky Back’s doorway. That evening Marlowe is recognized by the captain of the murdered sailor’s boat and is asked to investigate.

  And so begins the new Philip Marlowe mystery. Let’s pause a moment and think a little bit about that. We could have had a Philip Marlowe novel set in Waterford and, when the inevitable film version was made, would it have starred Humphrey Bogart and would the film crews have filmed in Waterford? Nothing came of it, however, and Chandler died the following year.