THE GOODBYE COAST by Joe Ide

THE GOODBYE COAST

Joe Ide (joeide.com)

Weidenfeld & Nicolson (weidenfeldandnicolson.co.uk)

£14.99

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Once a rom-com queen, Kendra James is now a fading Hollywood star. Her husband has been shot dead and her step-daughter has disappeared, so she turns to a private detective to find her. Enter Philip Marlowe who, with the help of his alcohol-dependent cop father, will discover more than he bargained for in his search for Cody James. While also attempting to help a second client – the beautiful Brit Ren Stewart, whose son has been abducted by his American father and spirited off to L.A. – Marlowe will come into contact with Armenian gangsters and, inevitably, the Russian mob. The biggest question now is whether he can stay alive long enough to solve either of these cases.

Let’s ignore the most obvious thing about Joe Ide’s The Goodbye Coast for a minute, and take a look at the plot. It’s a solid detective novel, full of action and with a well-thought-out mystery at its heart. It opens a window onto the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles and Hollywood, and the corruption and crime that powers the city’s fabled movie business. There’s a darkness here, both in the city, and on the microscopic level of the individual characters. Kendra James is perfectly cast, beautiful yet aloof, the type of person that it’s impossible to warm to; the step-daughter is a spoiled brat on the verge of adulthood, who forms an inexplicable bond with the old alcoholic policeman that is charged with her care. Ide does characters well, giving us a reason to care for the story’s outcome because we need to know how it all comes out for the people involved. The city, too, is a central character and its presence is felt throughout, a dark and seedy city run by violent gangs, a much different L.A. than the one we see in travel brochures and upbeat movies. There’s no doubt that Ide is a very talented writer, one who knows exactly how to push our buttons, and to craft a gripping story that moves at pace without leaving anyone behind. But there’s a problem with The Goodbye Coast that puts a dampener on the whole thing, which brings us back to the elephant in the room.

In case it’s not immediately obvious, The Goodbye Coast is set in the present day. When I discovered this, about two pages into the story, my heart sank. The central character is none other than Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, perhaps one of the most iconic characters in crime fiction. Marlowe is a product of his time, a smoking, drinking, wise-cracking private detective who plies his trade in the Los Angeles of the early twentieth century. He’s a dinosaur, but a character who has inspired countless others, from the obvious copycats to the offspring of a more subtle origin. But he’s a character that would be well out of his depth in the modern world, a character that wouldn’t fit in to this more politically correct age without losing some of his defining characteristics. Which is, unfortunately, what has happened here: there’s nothing in The Goodbye Coast that makes Marlowe stand out from any other Pl in the history of the genre, nor is there anything to which the reader can point and say, “That’s the Marlowe we know and love.” It’s a generic PI novel that has co-opted the iconic name to try and make it stand out, but the character could just as easily be called Lew Archer or Thomas Magnum or Nancy Drew and the story would lose nothing. Hell, create a new private eye altogether and nothing would change. In this sense, The Goodbye Coast is a massive disappointment. Philip Marlowe neither needs – nor deserves, for that matter – a twenty-first century reboot and fans of Chandler’s original should stick with Chandler (or Benjamin Black’s The Black-Eyed Blonde, set contemporaneously with Chandler’s novels, or Lawrence Osborne’s Only To Sleep which takes a septuagenarian Marlowe to Mexico in his retirement, both of which present a character who is undoubtedly Philip Marlowe).

So there you have it. On the one hand, The Goodbye Coast is a well-written and fun detective novel. On the other, it’s an unnecessary reboot of a character that should never have been taken out of his original time period. If you can ignore the fact that this is supposed to be THE Philip Marlowe, then it’s worth a read, but if you go in expecting to find the character that we all know and love, it’s probably best to avoid this altogether. There is no doubt that Joe Ide is a talented writer, but this feels like something of a misstep, an experiment gone wrong, and we can but hope that this is the last we’ll see of a modern-day Philip Marlowe.

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