Joe Ide is known for his “IQ” series featuring a Holmesian detective Isaiah Quintabe and his many associates. Those books are steeped in Los Angeles so it is probably no surprise that Ide has been given the keys to one of Los Angeles most famous detectives Philip Marlowe. There have been some other post-Chandler Marlowe books – in the late 1980s Robert B Parker (creator of Spenser, a Bostonian hard boiled detective) took some unfinished work of Chandler and delivered Poodle Springs and Perchance to Dream. Ide does not take this approach, instead creating a modern version of the famous detective and setting the action in present day Los Angeles.
When The Goodbye Coast opens Marlowe is on his way to Malibu to see a movie star client. With the observation that “Driving from Hollywood to Malibu and back again was the same as being dead for three hours” readers know they are in hard boiled detective territory. The client, Kendra James, wants Marlowe to find her daughter Cody who has run away after Kendra’s husband Terry was shot outside their home. Marlowe does not take long to find Cody but she believes that her mother is trying to kill her so he puts her up with his father Emmet, on leave from the police due to an alcohol problem. Not long after, Marlowe takes another case for the mother of a boy kidnapped by his father in England and brought to LA.
While The Goodbye Coast works as an effective modern detective story, with some well delivered twists and action scenes, it is unclear why the need to call that detective “Philip Marlowe”. This new version of Marlowe shows reasonable detecting skills, an eye for the ladies, the occasional laconic remark and a propensity for being beaten up a little too often. But that can be said about a bunch of modern crime fiction detectives. Moreover, Ide’s style of delivering multiple points of view, that works so well in the IQ series where readers are made to care about many of the characters, dilutes the focus here.
Using Marlowe does allow Ide to open up a different side of LA to the one he tends to explore in the IQ books. This includes the Malibu mansions, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood backlots. But in the end, this is still LA:
…an ugly city. It had no character, no texture, no architecture, nothing to engage you. LA was a hot, endless flatland of streets, telephone poles, strip malls, gas stations and dry cleaners. Some places were brighter and had taller buildings but you could hardly call that charm, character of even interesting… Marlowe had lived here all his life and had never once taken the long way home.
Joe Ide knows how to deliver a well plotted crime novel. In the IQ series he takes some classic detective tropes and builds them into something new. With The Goodbye Coast it feels like he is trying too hard to fit himself into someone else’s shoes. The economy, caustic wit and downbeat nature of the original Chandler books gets lost in Ide’s own signature style, creating an amalgam that does not quite work as either. So that while it is still a cut above much of the detective fiction out there it is not Chandler and far from Ide’s best.