WILLIAM DENBOW – Chandler. Belmont Tower, paperback original, 1977.

   A while ago back, Bill Crider said something in his blog about Chandler, by William Denbow. The cover says it’s “…the toughest novel since The Maltese Falcon and Farewell, My Lovely,” but it’s more like a cheap attempt to exploit the success of Joe Gores’ Hammett (1975).


   Like any responsible critic, Crider savaged the book, but I remembered buying it at a grocery store when it first came out, and I remembered thinking it wasn’t awful. And that’s all I remembered — I’m afraid I was quite drunk at the time. So I figured I’d try reading it sober and see what it was really like.

   Well it just ain’t that bad. It ain’t that good, either, but somehow it didn’t strike me as completely awful.

   For starters, I should warn potential readers (both of you) that there’s a lot of flat-footed explication here, some of the characters don’t exactly come to life on the page, and there’s a truly dreadful conversation between the fictional Raymond Chandler and the fictional Dashiell Hammett where Hammett comes up with the name ‘Philip Marlowe,’ and while I was getting through it, I seriously considered ripping my own eyes out rather than reading another line, it’s that bad. So you’ve been warned.

   On the other hand, as I say…

   Well, the plot moves along quickly, probably because it has to in a hundred-and-fifty-page paperback; the bad guys are engagingly nasty; one or two of the characters do come to life on the page; there’s some good research, and author Denbow occasionally comes up with bits like:

    The elevator moved like silk. It seemed to rise on a column of thousand dollar bills.

    Hammett opened the door and the reek of stale booze and cigarette smoke hit Chandler like a fist.

    “What’s his name?” Chandler.
    “Maybe I should just call the cops.”
    “Maybe you should do a lot of things. Here’s two more dollars.”

    It was a stale smelling little store crammed with newspapers and pulp magazines. The store carried The News, The Jewish Daily Forward; Chandler didn’t see Black Mask, and he figured there was enough real crime people didn’t read crime stories.

   I don’t care what anybody says, that’s good writing. There’s also a vivid shot of a stint in a Mexican jail, and an interview with a half-drunk widow just enough like the scene with Jessie Florian in Farewell, My Lovely to evoke it without imitating it.

   In all, what you’ve got here is a book that doesn’t merit a lot of praise, and I’m not going to lend it out to my friends, but when I finished reading it, I put it back on my shelf.

   Which I guess is something.

BIBLIOGRAPHIC DATA: William Denbow, according to Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, was the pen name of George Stiles. Chandler is his only entry in CFIV under either name. Nothing else is known about Stiles. (He does not appear to be the British composer of such stage and screen musicals as Honk! and Peter Pan, as the latter was born in 1961).