It’s 1988, and a 73-year-old Phillip Marlowe is enjoying retirement in Mexico. When two insurance types show up to ask him to look for a corpse that may not be all that dead, Marlowe decides he’s up for one last ride. So he travels to California to pick up the trail of Donald Zinn, the alleged deceased. He meets wife Delores, who assures Marlowe that Donald Zinn is very dead, and that she is going on with her life. Marlowe takes that with the appropriate grain of salt and rebuilds the last days of Zinn’s life. Arriving in Mexico in the town where Zinn was declared dead, he learns that the Zinns were heavily in hock and had spent their lives living the high life that way. Soon, he realizes washed up on the shore of that Mexican town, but who was it?
As Marlowe peels back the layers of deception, he also develops a late life crush on Delores Zinn.
There’s not a lot of gunplay in this one. Marlowe is more than ever dependent on his wit. Still, the one fight he gets into requires his cane, which conceals a sword. Mostly, Marlowe relies on his mouth and an ability to disappear into a crowd of older American men.
Only to Sleep fits neatly into the Marlowe mythology, even referencing Poodle Springs, the Raymond Chandler novel completed by Spenser scribe Robert B. Parker. But Osborne is not Chandler. He achieves the feel of Chandler’s work, but Osborne has his own voice. Much of this is the time in which he has placed Marlowe. 1988 has more in common with 2018 than 1936, in the age of The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely. And it flows like the Marlowe stories of old. It’s starts to drag in back half. Osborne, who does a good job eulogizing the death of Marlowe’s sex drive (“My pilot light had gone out.”), nonetheless has him obsessed with Delores.
Still, this is one of the better posthumous novels done on a beloved series. Far better than Poodle Springs.