06 December 2023

It Seems There Was This Irish Policeman...

 Foil Arms and Hog are three very funny Irish sketch comedians.  They have dozens of videos available on the web but the first one I spotted happens to relate to our favorite genre.  Enjoy.

Courting the B Muse

Last month I took a deep dive into linguistics.  I'm back in the same waters today.

Back in 2013 I wrote a novella about a beat poet detective named Delgardo.  After it appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine I put up an e-version on Amazon, courtesy of James Lincoln Warren who was kind enough to prepare the text for me, and create the cover.

Last year AHMM published the sequel and I have been thinking about creating a similar e-text.  I was reading it over and I came across this sentence:

The poet shook his head, looking bemused.  

And it occurred to me to ask: what exactly does bemused mean? 

I wasn't sure and that bugged me.  Here I quote a different story I wrote, about mystery writer Shanks:

Discovering he was using a word he couldn’t define annoyed him, like a carpenter opening his tool box and finding a gadget he didn’t recognize.  

And I had not only used the word, but had it published.  

I thought it meant: mildly amused and surprised.  But what did the dictionary say?  Glad you asked.  

Merriam-Webster gives three meanings: 

1. marked by confusion or bewilderment

2. lost in thought or reverie

3. having or showing feelings of wry amusement especially from something that is surprising or perplexing

(Ahem... Is from the word they want in definition 3?  I would have used because of.) 

Clearly, #3 is what was in my head. I checked my 1961 copy of Webster's Third International Dictionary (the one Nero Wolfe so despised he burned it in his fireplace). #3 is completely missing, so apparently the lexicographers only acknowledged it in the last half century.

Jumping back to the Merriam-Webster website I found something interesting by looking up bemuse (without the d).    It provided this helpful note:

Many people link bemused with amused, believing that the former word carries the meaning “amused, with a touch of something else.” While this was not its original sense, bemused has been used in such a fashion for long enough, and by enough people, that the meaning “having feelings of wry amusement especially from something that is surprising or perplexing" has become established. You may use bemuse in this fashion if you wish, but bear in mind that some people find it objectionable, insisting that bemused and amused are entirely distinct and that bemused properly means “marked by confusion or bewilderment.”

I went to the Oxford English Dictionary and discovered that they only list two meanings (under bemuse):

1. To make utterly confused or muddled, as with intoxicating liquor; to put into a stupid stare, to stupefy.

2.  Humorously, To devote entirely to the Muses.

So the OED doesn't even recognize "lost in thought." 

 Intrigued, I went to Facebook and asked people to define bemused without checking any sources.  I promptly received 30  responses. Their definitions fell into three main categories:

CONFUSED: confused, puzzled, bewildered, quizzical.

AMUSED: Amused, entertained by an odd event, gently amusingly surprised.

BOTH: Confused and slightly intrigued, pleasantly puzzled, taken aback and amused by it.

My friend Peter Rozovsky, who is a copy editor (and excellent photographer... that picture of me above is his work) is firmly in the "confused" camp and he wrote: 

That so many people get this wrong is an interesting sociolinguistic phenomenon. An error repeated often and widely enough becomes correct, with the intermediate step of usage notes in dictionaries that the word in question "is regarded by many as substandard, but..." The elimination of copy editing by newspapers (and, from what I hear, its downgrading by book publishers) only accelerates "language change." And if you find this troubling, go have a lie- down on your chaise longue.

I would suggest that Peter was surprised and mildly amused by the comments.  Too bad we don't have a word for that.


05 December 2023

Narc Types?

    The current novel on my bedside table involves a cop who possesses superhuman thinking abilities. He never forgets anything. He has a sidekick who stands in awe of his mental agility. The protagonist is a modern-day Sherlock Holmes minus the cocaine and violin. 

    Although I've met many genuinely gifted police officers in my career, I've never met anyone like this. 

    Other books present the cops as corrupt or grossly inept. Some novels portray an officer so weighed down by personal baggage and the burdens she bears that she transforms into a drug-abusing alcoholic, barely a step above the criminals she pursues. 

    Each trope has some basis in fact. For the most part, however, these big issues don't reflect the officers I've seen and dealt with during my time in the courthouse. Their humanity is revealed, not in a single character bombshell, but rather because they sometimes run late, spill coffee, let an f-bomb drop in church, or drop the occasional typo into a report. 

    Anyway, that's my stated reason for the following compilation of typos gleaned from recent police reports. I hope they help you think about subtle ways to reveal character in your writing, better equip you to properly view the humans working as law enforcement professionals, or perhaps bring a smile to your day.

    "He angeled his head away."

    I assume that the arrestee bent his neck and moved his head to one side. But in the spirit of the yuletide season, he might have been adjusting his halo or emphasizing his pure white wings. The alleged offense, however, was not creating peace on earth.

    "The cocaine seized from the arrestee was gold ball sized."

    My assumption was that the packaged drugs collected by the officer were roughly the size of a Titleist. But given the fluctuating nature of narcotic prices, the baggie might have been worth its weight in precious metal.

    "She was found intoxicated in public lace."

    This one might unintentionally be accurate. Alcohol may sometimes lead to bad fashion choices. At least, that's what I've been told.

    "It was seized after passing the Heroine Test." 

    What are the elements of a good heroine test? Mental toughness. An unwillingness to allow her social status to defend who she becomes. A protagonist who is prepared to put her life on hold until the presenting problem resolves. Or perhaps a desire to sleep after consuming jerry-built pharmaceuticals.

    "The arrestee reviled to Officer Jones his name." 

    Another example of a sentence that might unintentionally be true. Not every citizen goes quietly into custody. Sometimes, hard feelings and genuine dislike develop between the opposing parties.

    Finally, in police work, as in fiction writing, the words matter. Consider the following typographical example. 

    During the argument, the arrestee hit his girlfriend.
    During the argument, the arrestee bit his girlfriend.

    The remainder of the report did not make clear whether "bit" was a typo or whether that was the actual physical conduct in which he engaged. It didn't matter for my purposes; the charged offense was the same regardless of the manner and means. However, I drew a very different mental picture of the two defendants. I found myself reacting much more strongly to the carnivore. What's your reaction? Was your image shaped dramatically by the single substitution of a consonant? 

    May all your holiday feasting be non-arrestable. 

    Until necks time. 

04 December 2023

Books, books, books. And more books.

        I guess I was a pretty privileged kid growing up, though it often didn’t feel that way.  There were plenty of challenges, that I won’t go into here, though it’s safe to say we had financial security and little danger of physical harm, despite our devotion to risky behavior and thwarting our parents’ best laid plans to keep us safe.

         One unalloyed benefit to my upbringing was we were a family of readers.  My mother, older brother, aunts and grandmothers all read like crazy.  Books were all over the houses, and easily accessible.  Many were popular fictions – detective novels and door-stop bestsellers, but there was plenty of more erudite fare, and all I had to do was reach out my hand and grab anything open on a coffee table or nightstand.

        When we were young children, we were read to every night.  I will go out on a limb and declare there’s no better way to instill a love of the written word on tender young minds.  We did it with our own son, and I think it helped form his life in the best possible way. 

         I wasn’t a very good student.  I never liked just sitting there listening to someone in the front of a room talk at me.  But because I read so much, I could make up for it in odd ways that bailed me out.  And I could always write well enough, since I’d been trained at home on the subtleties, ebb and flow, the nuances of language. 


         I read virtually everything my older brother read, since he’d pass the books and articles to me when he was finished.  Because I did everything he did, this was standard practice.  He was an omnivorous, if idiosyncratic, reader, so this also served me well.  My mother and I discussed these books, so there was instruction along the way. I developed some friendships with older kids who would also pass along their favorite books, which I would introduce into the family literary ecosystem. 


         One particularly precocious kid I knew turned me on to physics, which totally befuddled my family members, though he gifted me with a lifelong interest in the subject, little of which I’ve ever understood.  I still like reading about it, even if the comprehension is fleetingly transitory.


         In the same way, I love archeology, paleontology, geography (maps!), architecture, auto mechanics, Buddhism, European history and military strategy, by knowing just enough to keep reading, even if only a tiny bit sticks. 


        I owe it all to our mother and grandmothers reading us A. A Milne and Dr. Seuss, while I followed along, deciphering the words as she spoke.  It was magical, this transformation of thought into symbols that you could then retain, and reproduce yourself.  What a marvel, what a gift. 


        If this be privilege, then I’m among the most blessed who ever lived.  I didn’t know to seek it out, it was just delivered to me, tucked into bed and hanging on every word. 


       Not all readers write, but all writers read.  It’s essential.  The first thing a writing coach will say is, “Read.”   You need to swim in that ocean of words to be facile in conjuring them yourself.  However, just to heighten the challenge of writing, you also have to find your own voice.  I stopped reading fiction for several years so I could clean all the chattering voices out of my head, and with luck, find my own.  Though I didn’t stop reading nonfiction, focusing on the best writers I could find (Winston Churchill, Freud, Stephen Jay Gould, Lewis Thomas, Machiavelli, Kant, Malcom Goldstein, Bill Bryson, etc.)  And along the way, I learned a few things. 


        So I’ll repeat what I’ve already written.  If you want to write, read.  And then write all the time.  Write anything, just don’t stop.  After a few million words, you’ll begin to know what you sound like, and that’s the beginning.  You can take it from there.    

03 December 2023

The Spy Who Shunned Me

I was glancing at a not-so-recent Stacker.com ‘Best 100 Spy Movies of All Time’, thinking it was right up the dark alley of our spymaster, David Edgerley Gates. If you did something extremely stupid, he could make you disappear.

male spy in trenchcoat carrying smoking gun

And then I noticed something stupid.

Where was Ipcress File? And Day of the Jackal? Manchurian Candidate? Riddle of the Sands? Casablanca? And where the hell was 39 Steps? And why the Hail Freedonia was Duck Soup in the list? Hey, I love the Marx Brothers but it bears as much resemblance to a spy movie as Margaret Dumont does to John le Carré.

I had to stop because so many possibilities flooded my mind. The article should be retitled ‘100 Pretty Good kinda-Spy Movies of Small Time, Give or Take.’ I bet David could name many more.

So here is the core of Stacker’s list followed by a few unranked suggestions of my own.

100Body of Lies2008Ridley Scott 50Clear and Present Danger1994Phillip Noyce
99Salt2010Phillip Noyce 49Rogue One: A Star Wars Story2016Gareth Edwards
98Moonraker1979Lewis Gilbert 48Breach2007Billy Ray
97Never Say Never Again1983Irvin Kershner 47Spy2015Paul Feig
96Shadow Dancer2012James Marsh 46Eye in the Sky2015Gavin Hood
95Octopussy1983John Glen 45Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol2011Brad Bird
94The Man from U.N.C.L.E.2015Guy Ritchie 44The Bourne Identity2002Doug Liman
93The Informant!2009Steven Soderbergh 43Red Cliff2008John Woo
92The Eagle Has Landed1976John Sturges 42Emperor and the Assassin1998Kaige Chen
91Atomic Blonde2017David Leitch 41Flame & Citron2008Ole Christian Madsen
90Until the End of the World1991Wim Wenders 40Inherent Vice2014Paul Thomas Anderson
89You Only Live Twice1967Lewis Gilbert 39No Way Out1987Roger Donaldson
88Cloak & Dagger1984Richard Franklin 38Black Book2006Paul Verhoeven
87The Fourth Protocol1987John Mackenzie 37The Age of Shadows2016Kim Jee-woon
86RED2010Robert Schwentke 36Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation2015Christopher McQuarrie
85Mission: Impossible1996Brian De Palma 35The Bourne Supremacy2004Paul Greengrass
84Snowden2016Oliver Stone 34Europa Europa1990Agnieszka Holland
83Allied2016Robert Zemeckis 33Lady Vengeance2005Park Chan-wook
82The Matador2005Richard Shepard 32Dr No1962Terence Young
81Michael Collins1996Neil Jordan 31Inglourious Basterds2009Quentin Tarantino
80Eye of the Needle1981Richard Marquand 30The Imitation Game2014Morten Tyldum
79Horror Express1972Eugenio Martín 29The Man Who Knew Too Much1956Alfred Hitchcock
78Patriot Games1992Phillip Noyce 28The Quiet American2002Phillip Noyce
77OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies2006Michel Hazanavicius 27A Beautiful Mind2001Ron Howard
76The Front Line2011Jang Hoon 26Infernal Affairs2002Andrew Lau, Alan Mak
75Thunderball1965Terence Young 25Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy2011Tomas Alfredson
74The Hunt for Red October1990John McTiernan 24Ghost in the Shell1995Mamoru Oshii
73Spy Game2001Tony Scott 23The Constant Gardener2005Fernando Meirelles
72Mission: Impossible III2006J.J. 22Bridge of Spies2015Steven Spielberg
71Despicable Me 22013Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud 21Skyfall2012Sam Mendes
70True Lies1994James Cameron 20From Russia with Love1963Terence Young
69Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid1982Carl Reiner 19Casino Royale2006Martin Campbell
68The Falcon and the Snowman1985John Schlesinger 18Enter the Dragon1973Robert Clouse
67The East2013Zal Batmanglij 17The English Patient1996Anthony Minghella
66Official Secrets2019Gavin Hood 16Mission: Impossible: Fallout2018Christopher McQuarrie
65Lust, Caution2007Ang Lee 15The Conversation1974Francis Ford Coppola
64Sneakers1992Phil Alden Robinson 14House of Flying Daggers2004Yimou Zhang
63Fair Game2010Doug Liman 13Stalag 171953Billy Wilder
62Confessions of a Dangerous Mind2002George Clooney 12Goldfinger1964Guy Hamilton
61Charlie Wilson's War2007Mike Nichols 11The Bourne Ultimatum2007Paul Greengrass
60Kingsman: The Secret Service2014Matthew Vaughn 10Letters from Iwo Jima2006Clint Eastwood
59Three Days of the Condor1975Sydney Pollack 9Zero Dark Thirty2012Kathryn Bigelow
58GoldenEye1995Martin Campbell 8Le Petit Soldat1963Jean-Luc Godard
57Walk on Water2004Eytan Fox 7Barry Lyndon1975Stanley Kubrick
56Marcel Proust's Time Regained1999Raoul Ruiz 6The Departed2006Martin Scorsese
55Where Eagles Dare1968Brian G. 5Duck Soup1933Leo McCarey
54Top Secret!1984Jim Abrahams, Zucker Bros. 4The Lives of Others2006Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
53A Most Wanted Man2014Anton Corbijn 3Notorious1946Alfred Hitchcock
52The Spy Gone North2018Yoon Jong-bin 2Pan's Labyrinth2006Guillermo del Toro
51X-Men: First Class2011Matthew Vaughn 1North by Northwest1959Alfred Hitchcock
The 39 Steps1935Alfred Hitchcock Topaz1969Alfred Hitchcock
Day of the Jackal1973Fred Zinnemann Riddle of the Sands1979ony Maylam
The Ipcress File1965Sidney J Furie Casablanca1842Michael Curtiz
The Manchurian Candidate1962John Frankenheimer Dark of the Sun1968Jack Cardiff

male spy in trenchcoat carrying smoking gun

For worst movie, I seem to recall Our Man Flint (1966), directed by Daniel Mann, was embarrassingly awful.

What is your take? Enquiring spies want to know.

Check out Prohibition Peepers, a Michael Bracken anthology.

02 December 2023

Rocks in My Socks


This post comes to you today from the Pet Peeves Department here at the SleuthSayers Building. Many of us who work at SS have occasionally posted about annoying words or phrases, usually those encountered in fiction but sometimes those we run into every day in the wild. This is one of those posts, so if you'd rather not hear someone grumble this soon after a day of thanksgiving, feel free to skip it and do something that's more fun. If you do read it, feel free to disagree with its contents. I'll probably look at this next week and disagree with it myself.

As of this moment, though, these are the current burrs under my saddle--or, as Dr. Suess might say, the rocks in my socks:

- Business terms and buzzwords like paradigm, deliverables, added value, takeaways, productivity, etc., when used in everyday speech. "Can you tell me the takeaways from To Kill a Mockingbird?" 

- Modern language in historical fiction. Words/phrases/slang like hairstyle, shenanigans, scrapbook, mommy, daddy, mesmerize, sadist, hello, hit the road, okay, rat him out, etc., have been around awhile, but they still probably aren't as old as you might think. Same thing for most fantasy fiction. "Yo, Gandalf. Whassup?"

- Data/dayta/datta. This is a pronunciation thing. I like dayta. I don't like datta. Can't help it. I also don't like asterix, nuke-ular, and expresso, but those are truly incorrect. Dayta's a personal preference.

- Alright. I like all right. I don't think alright is all right.

- A coffee, as in "I need a coffee." I prefer "I need coffee" or "I need some coffee" or "I need a cup of coffee." To me, saying you want a coffee or an iced tea is like saying you want a bread or a soup. Yes, I realize it's common usage, but it still bothers me. (Irritable Vowel Syndrome?)

- Everyday. I think everyday is an adjective, and only an adjective. "I'm wearing my everyday shoes" is right. "I wear these shoes every day" is right. "I wear my every day shoes everyday" is wrong. Same thing with words like backyard and backseat. "My backseat driver sits in the back seat" is right. So is "My backyard swing is located in my back yard." Switch those up and they're wrong.

- Setup. This one probably hurts my foot more than any of the other rocks. "The operation we set up was a setup" is right. "I setup the rooms without any help" is wrong.

- Impact used as a verb. Yes, I know that's allowed, but I think it works best as a noun. I've noticed that most news anchors and weather forecasters these days are using it as a verb because I guess they think it makes their statements stronger and more powerful. ("Garbage pickup problems impact city residents!" "Cold snap impacts the homeless!") I think affect works just as well. Maybe it's because I have medical people in my immediate family, but I always think of someone who's impacted as someone who's agonizingly constipated.

- Other nouns like dialogue and journal and fellowship used as verbs. "We need to dialogue," or "I've been journaling" or "Come to the church tonight and we'll fellowship" sounds wrong to me. I probably need to Google it (which, for some reason, sounds correct).

- The overuse of as and ing constructions in writing. Since it's not grammatically incorrect, this mistake is sometimes hard to catch in our own writing--but it's silly and amateurish. "Turning, I saw her leave. Running after her, I shouted to her as she climbed into the car. As I reached the sidewalk, she smiled as she waved goodbye. Sobbing, I walked back inside." Talk about instant rejection--that'll do it.

- Phrases like for you and I. It should be for you and me, as in for you and for me. The sad thing is, you see and hear this blunder ALL THE TIME, and from people who should know better.

I could care lessI know this phrase has been around for years, but I still haven't gotten used to it--maybe because it makes absolutely no sense. One word I have finally agreed to use is done instead of finished, but even that one took me a while to accept.

The reason why this happened is because . . . Enough said, about that. A discussion of redundancy would keep us here all day. In fact, it would keep us here all day.

- The use of then without a preceding comma. An article I saw some time ago, and I can't remember where, said that a lot of writers nowadays are doing that. Here's an example: "I waved to my neighbor then started mowing my grass." I think that's incorrect. And sure enough, I noticed last night that this has been done three times already in the new Jack Reacher novel, and I'm only forty pages in. What's up with that? I think it's correct to say either "I waved to my neighbor, then started mowing my grass" or "I waved to my neighbor and started mowing my grass." But if you do use then, I don't like leaving out that comma.

Like. I'm like, don't even get me started on this one.

- Media and data. Those words, like family or group or herd, are collective nouns that I think work best with singular verbs. I like the data is correct. I don't like the data are correct. And I dern sure don't like the datta are correct. And yes, I know that's nitpicking.

- Utilize. I think utilize is a needless word that people say to try to sound more intelligent. Use use instead. Writers often know this, so it's mostly something you hear on TV--and hearing it impacts me!

Writers saying a character crosses to the bar, the bed, the door, the kitchen sink, etc. Example: "John crossed and answered the phone." I realize we should try to use as few words as possible. but if it's necessary to say someone walks across a room I think maybe he should "walk across the room." This is a small thing--most of these are--but I see it so often I thought I'd mention it.

- You guys. Old-school or not, I don't much like referring to a mixed-gender group as you guys. A local TV reporter at a crime scene said "you guys" four times in less than a minute the other might when addressing the news team in the studio. (Full disclosure: I use the phrase occasionally myself. But I don't like myself when I do.)

- The use of Ms. with a woman's first name only. Using Miss with a first name--usually when addressing older ladies--is a sign of familiarity, especially in the south. "Hi, Miss Ellie." Married or not, politically correct or not, it's never, ever Ms. Ellie. If you want to use Ms. (or Mrs.), say Ms. Ewing.

More words/phrases I've grown achingly weary of hearing and seeing: "It is what it is," "no problem" (when did this replace "thank you"?), "stunning video," "iconic," "functionality," "let's do this!" "outside the box," "my amazing husband/wife/etc.," "give it up for," "reach out to," "got your back," "begs the question," "feeling nauseous," "at this point in time," "my journey," "it's problematic," "a sense of closure," "know what I'm sayin'?" "low-hanging fruit," yada yada. For that matter, I don't even like "yada yada." (And sportscasters are a whole 'nother story. I could possibly understand saying "w" in place of "win" if there was any reason at all to do it. Actually it takes longer to pronounce the letter "w" than it does to say the word "win.")

Other things I don't like are air-quotes, chains on eyeglasses, Botoxed lips, flat-billed baseball caps, The Bachelorette, mullets, cold weather, downer endings, present-tense writing, submission fees, head-tosses, loud cellphone conversations in public, and TV commercials urging you to "tell your health-care professional about such-and-such medication." For God's sake, if your doctor needs to be told how to treat your ailments, you need a new doctor.

The good thing about saying I dislike all these things is that the older I get, the more people will forgive me, or just disregard my opinions. ("Hey, he's old, what does he know." Usually spoken with a toss of the head.)

What are some of the annoying things in your life, and especially in the spoken or written words you hear or read? (Not necessarily wrong, but just irritating?) And yes, you can include opinion-column blog posts. The longer this one gets, it's becoming irritating to me too. If you by chance like this kind of thing, here are two of my SS posts from several years ago that talk more about irksome words/phrases, and are a little less opinionated: "Do's and Don'ts, Wills and Wont's, Part 1" and "Do's and Don'ts, Wills and Won'ts, Part 2." 

Having pointed out all these thorns in my side, I should mention that there are thankfully many things I do like, and not just my family, my house, and my friends. I like seafood, warm weather, Apple computers, lemon-icebox pie, homemade chili, Netflix, straight pool, reclining theater seats, Word Hunt, Joe Lansdale, Harry Nilsson, Cass Elliot, beaches, burritos, mystery magazines, the guitar, the piano, Yellowstone, Jeopardy, and The Sopranos. Not necessarily in that order.

And SleuthSayers. I like SleuthSayers. I hope you do, too.

On that note, next time I promise I'll be more upbeat. Until then, I can't help remembering something a colleague said to me several years ago. "I'm done with all this positive-thinking stuff," he said. "I knew it wouldn't work, and sure enough, it didn't."

Hard to argue with that.

01 December 2023

Why Marlowe?

Open Road Films

Last year, Liam Neeson appeared in Marlowe, the first Philip Marlowe movie in years. Marlowe's been scarce on the big and small screen until recently, but there seems to be a need to continue his story beyond Raymond Chandler's death. Most notably, Robert B. Parker finished the last Marlowe novel by Chandler, Poodle Springs. One blurb stated emphatically one couldn't tell where Parker picked up from Chandler. Spoiler alert: Not only is it glaringly obvious, the dialog changes mid-scene with Marlowe suddenly talking like Spenser. Still, Parker would have been my first choice to finish the last Marlowe novel.

There are other characters who have been as timeless as Philip Marlowe. James Bond is always a product of his times, with Connery and Lazenby's versions aficionados of Playboy while Daniel Craig's iteration had more of a conscience. Sherlock Holmes has also proved enduring, but with the exception of some films during World War II, Holmes remained rooted in the Victorian Era until the twenty-first century, with versions set in present-day London and New York, each using aspects of Doyle's work to justify the updates. (Then there's the Margaret Colin movie where she wakes up Holmes from suspended animation in the 1980s. Let us never speak of that one again.)

Like Holmes, Marlowe has usually been stuck with his original period on the big screen. But subsequent post-Chandler novels have been all over the map. This year's novel, The Second Murderer, takes place in the 1940s while others move the knight errant forward in time to the 1970s or 1980s. Unlike, say, James Bond, Marlowe is a product of his time.

On the big screen, filmmakers were able to do present-day Marlowe as long as the present day was within 30-40 years of his debut. Robert Altman's controversial The Long Goodbye was a product of the 1970s, complete with Altman's off-beat shooting and writing style and then-baseball celeb Jim Bouton as a supporting character. The 1975 remake of The Big Sleep, a TV movie from the same people who brought you UFO and Space: 1999, aged Marlowe, put him in London, and cast an aging Robert Mitchum as Marlowe. It was an uneven turn from the same actor who played Marlow in Farewell, My Lovely a few years earlier. There, his presence gave Marlowe realistic aging by setting the story in the 1940s.

For some reason, Marlowe also has yielded experimentation. After his conventional debut in Murder, My Sweet, 1944, Robert Montgomery directed and starred in The Lady in the Lake, in which we literally see the story through Marlowe's eyes. The entire movie is shot with the camera as Marlowe, taking the first-person narrative as literally as possible. And of course, Altman took the novel The Long Goodbye as a polite suggestion and sent Elliot Gould muttering about 1970s LA. But perhaps the best-known, best-loved iteration of Marlowe on the big screen is Humphrey Bogart's 1946 turn in the original The Big Sleep. Bogart plays a warmer PI than his almost sociopathic turn as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. The movie is one of the most faithful adaptations of a Chandler novel. Yet it sizzles with the obvious heat between Bogart and costar/future wife Lauren Bacall (22 and already one of the classiest presences on screen.)

For the post-Chandler books, Marlowe receives uneven treatment. Parker, of course, kept him aged in the 1950s as that was where Chandler left him when he died. The next novel, Perchance to Dream, gets meta and has Marlowe in the 1940s work with a writer named Raymond Chandler on a case. The last Marlowe book I read, however, was set in the late 1980s, with Marlowe trying to stay retired in Mexico and running into drug cartels. Denise Mina, however, takes him back to his roots, placing him in the 1940s. 

The trouble with Marlowe is that authors either try to imitate Chandler's trademark similes, expected from Parker, or they ignore it altogether. The result is either a pastiche or a story about a guy named Phillip Marlowe. 

Neeson's Marlowe, based on Benjamin Black's The Black-Eyed Blonde, probably comes closest to the original Marlowe. Neeson, probably needing a break from threatening people with "I will find you!", is the perfect choice to bring Marlowe's world-weariness to life.

But why new Marlowe novels? And why does he endure? Like Bond, some of his original stories inspire cringe in the present day. Holmes is infinitely adaptable, and as someone likely on the spectrum, has a renewed sense of chic. His mind doesn't work like most people's and keeps him eternally interesting. Bond, however, is cinematically a present-day creature. Connery and Lazenby's versions would not have worked in the 1990s or even today, whereas Brosnan's Bond is a halfway point. But why Marlowe?

Marlowe is a product of the Depression, with the world in a post-Victorian hangover, not to mention bracing for another World War. Nevertheless, he's persisted, showing up in the 1970s, a brief revival in-period in the 1980s, and several authors keeping him alive from the 1990s forward. But why? In an era where the PI is either a relic or off fighting right-wing extremists hiding in the shadows, Marlowe is still going down these mean streets.

It's probably because Marlowe's foes are still with us. Gangsters might have changed, but they never really went away. Drugs remain a scourge, even if pot is either legal or decriminalized, depending on where you live. And the crimes have gotten worse: human trafficking, child porn. All these are in Philip Marlowe's wheelhouse. And Marlowe makes no pretense of being virtuous, something his spiritual descendants insist on with their Hawks and Bubbas doing all the dirty work. (Even Robert Crais's Joe Pike, but he's a special case.) 

Many question the need to reboot James Bond after Daniel Craig's version died in No Time to Die. The enemies seem to be within. Holmes inhabits a realm that never really goes away. There will always be theft. There will always be murder. And there will always be a fascination with an unconventional mind that disdains the rules.

Marlowe, however, seems to be finding a new niche. It's a cold and confusing world. Who better to fight the good fight than a world-weary man who faces the nastiness with a wisecrack?