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Review: Only to Sleep by Lawrence Osborne


A few weeks ago, I was perusing The New York Times list of notable books from 2018 when I saw that Lawrence Osborne's Only to Sleep: A Philip Marlowe Novel had made the list. I was intrigued because a) I had loved all of original Raymond Chandler novels featuring his iconic detective and b) I had the preconception that most of the time derivative literature of this variety, where an author writes a book using fictional characters not of their own creating, isn't very good. I took the NY Times advice and gave Only to Sleep a try.


The novel takes place in 1988 (a year that I was having a hard time imagining Philip Marlowe existing in) and features a septuagenarian Marlowe living out his retirement in Mexico. In typical noir-private-eye fashion, what starts as a routine case (in this instance, an insurance company looking into an accident to assure there hasn't been insurance fraud), eventually leads to the uncovering of murder, betrayal, corruption, etcetera, etcetera.


Probably the highest praise I can give Only to Sleep is that it felt to me like a great Raymond Chandler impersonation. The setting is wonderfully evoked (in this case mostly Mexico as opposed to Marlowe's usual Southern California haunts) and the prose is spare, but with just enough sharpness to keep things interesting. Like the case with most of Chandler's Marlowe novels, the actual answer to whodunnit is sort of beside the point and the joy of the book is watching Marlowe observe and interact with the world--this time from the vantage point of someone nearing the end of their life and without much left to lose.


Only to Sleep is by no means a must read, but if you're a fan of Raymond Chandler, this novel is a worthy addition to the chronicles of Philip Marlowe, allowing readers to join the iconic detective one last time.

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