Someone once asked William Faulkner what he thought of the (almost uniformly wretched) film adaptations of his novels. He said he didn’t mind. The Hollywood money was good, and his books were still on the shelves, just as he wrote them.
So no real damage can be done to Raymond Chandler’s work no matter who proceeds with a new Marlowe novel. That doesn’t mean that all this endless sequelizing isn’t a shoddy idea—doomed from the outset, since any sequel is almost bound to be inferior to what inspired it, thus producing, at best, what the world needs least—another not-great book. Equally bad, the sequel racket encourages laziness among publishers. Instead of teasing out the number of 007 titles with inferior imitations, they could be spending that energy cultivating or at least searching for a great, undiscovered crime novelist or spy writer.
Say it ain’t so! Yes, Irish scribe John Banville is writing a new Philip Marlowe novel. For whatever cockamamie reason, the Chandler estate is sanctioning this. Having Robert B. Parker finish Poodle Springs was one thing. Perchance to Dream was unnecessary—decent, but bound to suffer when compared with Chandler’s novels. And, yes, the Fleming estate continues to commission James Bond continuation novels, some of which I have enjoyed. But the Fleming estate has been sanctioning Bond continuations since 1968, only four years after the death of Ian Fleming. For better or worse, the series has continued since then. Why would the Chandler estate choose another author to write Philip Marlowe just now?
Still, I will probably read Banville’s novel (to be published under his crime fiction pen name, Benjamin Black). And I bet that’s what the publishers and Chandler estate are banking on (in the most literal sense of the phrase). I will be pleasantly surprised if the novel turns out well, but I will read it regardless. If lots of other people do the same thing (I bet they will), Henry Holt and the Chandler estate will have profits that they otherwise would not have. Even if the book stinks.
Chandler certainly had literary shortcomings, but it is far from clear that Banville can rectify these and maintain Chandler’s iconic hardboiled prose. Malcolm Jones, in the link above, makes this case far better than I can.