Published in 1958, Playback is the seventh and last of the full-length Philip Marlowe novels written by Raymond Chandler. It appeared five years after The Long Goodbye, which was the sixth book in the series and which many would argue is the best book of them all. Playback is a fairly good read, but sadly, it's not on a par with many of the others in the series.
Although released five years later, the events in the novel occur about a year and a half after the end of The Long Goodbye. A lawyer named Clyde Umney, acting on instructions from a law firm in Washington, D.C., hires Marlowe to meet a train when it arrives in L.A. and to shadow a passenger from the train, a woman named Betty Mayfield who is traveling under an assumed name. Once Mayfield settles in somewhere, Marlowe is supposed to report back. Umney is unable or unwilling to explain why the client wants Mayfield followed.
Marlowe trails the young woman to Esmeralda, a small resort town, and manages to take the room next to her in a hotel. He discovers that an apparent blackmailer has some sort of hold on Mayfield. He also learns that another P.I., a piece of rough work from Kansas City, is also on Betty's trail. It seems clear that the young woman is in desperate need of a friend, even though she blows hot and cold on Marlowe's efforts to be of assistance. When Umney can't or won't give Marlowe a satisfactory explanation for his assignment, Marlowe returns his retainer and, forsaking his obligation to his client, tries to protect the young woman from the forces that are arrayed against her.
This is a relatively brief novel that Chandler adapted from a screenplay that he was unable to sell. There's not much of a mystery involved, and Marlowe is not quite as witty and philosophical as he was in the earlier novels. Still it's fun to watch him in action, and it's sad to ring down the curtain on what remains one of the best and most influential series in the history of crime fiction. 3.5 stars, rounded up just because it's Raymond Chandler.