Sunday, January 13, 2013

The magnificent, mysterious Dan J. Marlowe

I read older books as artifacts, particularly those from periods that have labels slapped on their foreheads such as the 1950s and early 1960s. You probably do the same, and we can't help it, especially in a genre as saturated with archetypes and prototypes as hard-boiled crime fiction.

That's why I like Dan. J. Marlowe so much. He was no path breaker, like Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. The novels of his that I've read are recognizably products of their time (the late 1950s and early 1960s) unlike, say, Hammett's The Glass Key, parts of which could have been written yesterday rather than in 1931. But Marlowe wrote and told stories and worked the conventions so well that even when he writes a happy ending to a hard-boiled story, it seems fresh.

I've just read Marlowe's Strongarm after previously having read The Name of the Game is Death, One Endless Hour, Vengeance Man, and Four for the Money. Marlowe could write tough, and he could write funny, and by all rights, he ought to be at least as celebrated as Donald Westlake. I'll leave you with a selection from Strongarm before letting you know where you might begin exploring the mystery of why he was not:
“`You’ll dance to a different tune now, buster,' Foley announced with vicious satisfaction. `This is even better than we’d —' his voice died away. He had expected me to run. His popping eyes didn’t believe it when I went after him. `No! No! No!' he screamed, wrapping his arms around his head. I wrenched them away. He started to dive out of the chair, and I smashed him right in the mouth. I hit him twice more. I felt bone go. I didn’t know whether it was his or mine. I don’t think he felt the third one. I looked at him slumped in the chair with blood streaming down his shirt front. It was only a down payment on what I owed him, but for now it would have to do.”
==============
Charles Kelly's Gunshots in Another Room bears the subtitle "The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe," so I'll pick it up with the expectation of learning why that strange and interesting life has been forgotten. In the meantime, Kelly tells a short version of Marlowe's story over at Allan Guthrie's Noir Originals.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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17 Comments:

Blogger R.T. said...

Thanks for linking the Marlowe info at AGNO. He sounds like the kind of guy who could make Hammett and Chandler seem absolutely normal in their personal lives. I especially like the "amnesia" or "stroke" phase of Marlowe's singular existence. And the era of the those Fawcett paperbacks! Those were the good old days! My appetite to read and know more has been whetted. Well done!

January 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You'll have noticed, then, that in addition to the amnesia/stroke, Marlowe looked like a pudgy, Middle American, small-town, Republican council member--which is exactly what he was. With that life and those books, it's a wonder he's not a lot better-known than he is.

I go through periodic phases of reading authors who wrote paperback originals back then--Fletcher Flora, Charles Runyon, Day Keene, and so on. In my limited experience, Marlowe stands out among that bunch.

January 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks! I'll probably pick up the Marlowe biography when I get home tonight. Charles Kelly came up to Philadelphia for Noircon in November. Not that it ought to make a difference, but he's a pleasant, soft-spoken gent who turns out to be an old friend of one of my paper's reporters.

January 13, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

I wonder what this whole process of reading books as artifacts will look like in fifty years, when the books written by the present day counterparts of Dan Marlowe are largely ebook originals and won't leave anything but a digital trace to remind people of them.

January 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

To wonder such a thing might be considered heretical in our boosterish age, but will refer to Lawrence Block's remarks at Noircon in November. To Duane Swierczynski's obervation that Block had begun writing paperback originals and was now writing e-books and that both were considered less than real books, Block replied: "I've been writing unreal books for fifty-four years."

January 13, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

I think the argument against my case is that it's possible that ebooks will be around forever and never go out of print. But it's the way that people will happen upon them that is totally different. I have heard that an astounding number of people do pick their books by their cover, but I don't know if a cover will extend to a little thumbnail jpeg as easily. It's okay when there is some marketing around a title, but we're talking deep backlist here.

January 13, 2013  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

I think this may be the first time you've posted about a writer I don't think I've ever even heard of. Off to correct that...

January 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I'm sympathetic to your argument. E-books may not kill reading, but they have certainly restricted and redefined browsing.

January 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kelly, Dan Marlowe was just a name to me until a friend recommended him a few months ago. And, to be fair to techno boosters, the phenomenon of e-books probably makes it easier and more feasible to get authors as Marlowe back into circulation -- in stripped-down editions, perhaps, but out there nonetheless.

January 13, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

The subject of e-books is an intriguing issue. Consider this: the "invention" of books, replacing scrolls, was really accelerated by the printing press, which means scrolls and hand-copied books quickly went the way of the museum. If books with their ink on paper will be made obsolete by e-books--which is not only possible but probable--then does it not stand to reason that e-books will not be around forever either; surely some presently unimagined technology will replace e-books, and they will become a bit like Betamax videos or vinyl LPs (i.e., more museum pieces). Those of us who cling to books and resist Kindles and their ilk probably know what we are fighting a losing battle, much like those who hoarded their Betamax videos.

January 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One can only hope that whatever replaces e-books will put Jeff Bezos in his place. I suppose that the advance of printing in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries did raise cries of alarm from aesthetes and monks that artisanship and beauty were dead, but the cries could not have been that widespread, if only because so few people owned or otherwise had access to all those beautiful manuscripts. Today, on the other hand, pro-technology boosterism is nauseating--and I write this as the owner of an e-reader.

What did printed books do that manuscripts could not? They put more books in more people's hands. What do e-readers do that printed books could not? One thing, and one thing only: They make it easier and cheaper to put out-of-print books backs into circulation. Reading on the damn things is a nuisance in ways books never were.

It will be interesting to see how widely whatever replaces current e-readers will allow access to books stored on the e-readers they replace. Makers will have strong economic incentives to block such access so readers will be forced to buy new books instead of just a new device to read their old ones. That's an evil that did not come up in 1453.

January 14, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Marlowe, of course, belatedly and posthumously benefits from e-text publishing. He joins many others in this regard.

My daughter-in-law gave me a Kindle as a gift, and--attempting to honor her generosity--I have been trying (without much success) to enjoy using the damned thing. Of course, I am not really the targeted consumer for such a device; I think people below the age of 40 who have been fully immersed in computer technology full their whole lives are more likely to embrace Kindles, Nooks, and similar devices.

Beyond the dark clouds gathering over the publishing industry because of e-texts, I see book stores and even libraries and university campuses becoming obsolete in some not so distant future. That brave new world will function just fine, I suppose, without me. In fact, engaging in a cynical perspective, these and many other changes in the world almost make me glad that I will not live as long as Methuselah. At three score and half a dozen, there are certain comforts to be embraced when it comes to the notion of mortality. And that, my friend, is my grim outlook for the day.

January 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...


You may become resigned to your Kindle even if you don't enjoy reading it. A Kindle is part of a marvelously efficient distribution mechanism. It is emphatically not a reading machine (which is why Jeff Bezos' ridiculous promotional rhetoric strains so hard to have you believe otherwise).

January 14, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

I guess I do not understand the distinction you are making. I am having a slow cognitive day.

January 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I mean that a Kindle or any other reader makes instant gratification possible. Think of a book, you can buy it and have it in hand within seconds. Reading the damn thing, on the other hand, subjects you to the machine's many limits.

January 14, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of e-books and Dan Marlowe, here is a link to some free ones:

http://www.munseys.com/detail/mode/author/Dan_Marlowe

Michael C.

January 15, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. Most of those are Marlowe's Johnny Killain books, the only crime series I know that has a bellhop as its protagonist

January 15, 2013  

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