Originally published in 1958, just one year before his death, Playback is the last novel completed by Raymond Chandler. As always, Chandler's writing style is first rate. Highly descriptive prose, engaging dialogue, imaginative situations and anecdotes, as well as interesting social commentary are present in abundance. Unfortunately, the plot itself is so very thin and poorly conceived, little can be done to save it.
Most of the narrative takes place not in Los Angeles but in a small resort town near San Diego. Philip Marlowe has been paid to follow a beautiful redhead though he is not told why. Because he thinks she might be in danger, Marlowe identifies himself and offers to help the redhead who is traveling under the name of Betty Mayfield. Before long, an aquaintance of Miss Mayfield turns up dead. We subsequently learn that the body was caused to disappear in a very gimmicky manner. A manner one would be more likely to expect to find in a bad episode of Mannix than in a Raymond Chandler novel. Quite frankly, when I read this particular passage in all its cheesiness, I became embarrassed for the author and his countless fans everywhere.
Playback is worth reading if only to see how much Marlowe and American society had changed since the character's debut in the 1930's. Raymond Chandler is an American original, a legendary writer and pioneer of the hard-boiled detective genre. But Playback falls far short of the high standard he himself had set.