Friday, October 24, 2014

My Bouchercon panels: Charles Kelly and Dan J. Marlowe

Chapter 14 of Charles Kelly's Dan J. Marlowe biography reminded me that I attained my majority in a degenerate age:
"On March 23, 1976 ... Marlowe told a friend in a letter, `Gold Medal has just cancelled flat my Operation series.' Fawcett Gold Medal editor Joseph Elder had informed Marlowe, `Basically this kind of story is not working at all in today’s market. The mystery/ suspense novel as a paperback category is failing left and right, and very few of the category heroes are surviving.'” 
I was in my mid-teens then, which meant that by the time I was ready to start exploring crime fiction in a serious way, even reprints of those old paperback originals were going out of print, and the originals were often available only under plastic wrap, complete with brittle pages and high prices. (I have no figures to back me up, but I suspect that one benefit of electronic publishing is increased availability of books that had appeared as paperback originals. Gold Medal's decision to drop Marlowe, by the way, happened during CBS' takeover of Fawcett, which ran Gold Medal. No doubt CBS would have told worried readers that it was refocusing its crime offerings to better serve our customers. Always to better serve our customers.)

Kelly's book is called Gunshots in Another Room: The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe, and it's refreshingly free of lurid details, considering that Marlowe was a professional gambler, an amnesiac, a rambler, and a spanking fetishist who also befriended and collaborated with a bank robber who had made the EBI's Ten Most Wanted list. That Marlowe was also a Rotarian, a small-town Republican councilman, a hardworking businessman, a thoroughgoing professional, and a man who met setbacks with industry and equanimity are salutary reminders that real life is often more interesting and less sensational than the publicity machine (with our enthusiastic complicity) would have us believe.

Above all, Kelly knows that the writing is the thing, and he lards his book with excerpts from and summaries and discussions of Marlowe's work. And quite a body of work it is. The protagonist of the great The Name of the Game Is Death is scarier than Richard Stark's Parker, what Parker might have been had Stark chosen to get inside his (Parker's) head.

If you like Parker (I wrote in a previous Marlowe post), you might like Marlowe. If you like Stephen King's "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption," you might like Marlowe. If you like revenge stories and you want to see how a master wrote them, you might like Marlowe. If you like man-on-the-run stories, you might like Marlowe. If you like your sex scenes with a bit of an edge, you might like Marlowe. (Read a sample of Kelly on Marlowe from Allan Guthrie's Noir Originals.)
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Charles Kelly will discuss Dan J. Marlowe as part of a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014. The panel is called "Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras," and it happens at 3 p.m, Friday, Nov. 14. See you there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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