Sunday, October 05, 2014

My Bouchercon panels: More on the great Dan J. Marlowe

(Photo by your humble blogkeeper; has
nothing to do with Dan J. Marlowe)
Earlier this year I called Dan J. Marlowe's first novel, Doorway to Death, "loaded with sex and adverbs," and for a while there I thought Marlowe, who published the book in 1959, was simply using hard-boiled syntax that came naturally to him from crime writing of the 1930s and '40s.  Then I started coming across examples like these:
"He sighed, stretched lengthily..."

"He stripped the bed, walked stiffleggedly to the bathroom.."

"Inside the panelled doors he rushed softfootedly past the drowsing drinkers..."

"Manuel’s dark eyes lingered fascinatedly..."

“`Come in, come in!' Lieutenant Dameron barked irritatedly..."

"Resignedly he dried his face and took down the electric razor."
and I began to suspect that Marlowe was having fun, bidding a fond farewell to the adverb-laden hard-boiled prose of his younger days, deliberately taking it over the top. A sentence from the great Name of the Game Is Death confirmed the impression:
"I backed out tanglefootedly under Mrs. Newman’s bright-eyed inspection."
to which I smiled not just amazedly, but also appreciatingly.  In any case, by the time Strongarm appeared in 1963, the extravagant-adverb count was way down, from Doorway to Death's 73 words ending in -dly to 43.

But Marlowe was more than just adverbs and odd word choices (“'You’re in trouble, Jerry!' she accused her husband.")  If you like Richard Stark's Parker, 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. A blog post by Ed Gorman sums up nicely Marlowe's ability to evoke so many of the great hard-boiled crime writers.
*
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.
==============
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 2013, 2014

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21 Comments:

Blogger RT said...

The neologistically crafted adverbs would drive me distractedly to insanity. Perhaps Marlowe should have channeled Hemingway as his minimalistically obsessive muse.

But now, more seriously, where on earth was Marlowe's editor? What editor would have allowed such linguistic nonsense?

Am I being too harsh?

June 24, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Not harsh, but possibly anachronistic and maybe slightly deficient in your ability to take a linguistic joke. Look, I hate adverbs as much as the next guy, and the adverbs I have excised from news articles in the course of my job would make a nice, high pile. Further, my own occasional flash-fiction efforts always elicit comparisons to Hammett's terseness.

But the animus against adverbs, at least in American hard-boiled crime fiction, is decidedly a post-war phenomenon. I find excessive adverbs distracting in crime fiction from the 1930s and '40s, but they are facts of the era's cultural life. (This does not mean, of course, that one has to like them.)

Marlowe gets something of a pass from me for two reasons, though. One, his books are so good that I can overlook the adverbs, and two, I suspect he would agree that the adverbiage from the era that immediately preceded his own was, indeed, worth making fun of, and he enjoyed making fun of it.

June 24, 2014  
Blogger RT said...

Yeah, linguistic jokes (and irony) are my weaknesses (i.e., I spent too much time in the past reading freshman composition papers -- that can destroy a person's sense of humor about intentional or unintentional overuse of either adverbs or other stylistically annoying abuses).

June 24, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah, you're being harsh now, toward yourself. I surprised myself with my indulgence toward the profusion of adverbs in Marlowe's early writing. I'm sure you've read things in your life that you wound up liking after initial wariness.

June 24, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And aren't you impressed that he appears to have cut down on the adverbs in slightly later books? Such an adaptation is especially impressive considering that his first novel did not appear until he was several years into his 40s.

June 24, 2014  
Blogger RT said...

Well, I suppose there is only thing left for me to do: read Marlowe.

Sometimes stylistic singularities work but sometimes they don't. As an example, some people love Henry James; I would rather go to the dentist that be forced to read another James novel.

Changes in a reader's age matters as well. When I was younger, I loved Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, and Richard Brautigan. Now I cannot imagine why.
Perhaps Marlowe will work for me. Time will tell.

June 24, 2014  
Blogger RT said...

Doorway to Death is now on my Kindle. I will now test the waters.

June 24, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"I would rather go to the dentist that be forced to read another James novel."

I would love to see that as a blurb. Doorway to Death is good fun, but The Name of the Game is Death is generally acknowledged to be Marlowe's masterpiece, and rightly so. One Endless Hour, that book's sequel, is fine, too, as are Four for the Money and Vengeance Man.

June 24, 2014  
Blogger RT said...

Forgive my self-promotion, but here is news . . . FYI . . .
http://beyondeastrod.blogspot.com/2014/06/rt-returns-to-work-at-beyond-eastrod.html

June 25, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, and here is that link in handy one-click form: http://beyondeastrod.blogspot.com/2014/06/rt-returns-to-work-at-beyond-eastrod.html. I recommend your erudite, entertaining, fearless, sporadic blog posts to anyone who happens to read this.

I will add that I have just bought three more books by Dan J. Marlowe: The last of the Johnny Killain books (Shake a Crooked Town), the first Drake book after The Name of the Game Is Death and One Endless Hour (Operation Fireball), and the one later novel (Operation Whiplash) in which Drake, by now a part-time secret agent, returns to the scene of the first two books. I’m exploring the phases of Marlowe’s career now.

June 25, 2014  
Blogger RT said...

My superficial reading of a capsule biography suggests that Marlowe was a very interesting character himself. What a career! What a curious case of amnesia! What a roommate! And that is just the tip of the sordid iceberg!

And thanks for the well-placed and properly formatted link.

June 25, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're welcome. My post links to a discussion of a full-length biography of Marlowe.

June 25, 2014  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Have you reviewed JK Rowling's crime novels? There's a lady who loves her adverbs.

I find it a bit annoying, but you can't argue with her millions of copies sold and her high ratings on Good Reads etc. can you?

This is what the general public wants. That and Swedish rape/torture porn.

June 25, 2014  
Blogger RT said...

Was it at this blog or elsewhere where someone reminded me (by citing P. T. Barnum) that no one goes wrong by underestimating the intelligence and/or taste of the general public? Perhaps, if I read you correctly, Adrian, Rowling belongs with Dan Brown, the author of those Girl w// Tattoo books, and similar wonders -- yet, people do have not-so-surprising tastes. Good grief! This is a culture that has produced Lady GaGa, 50-Cent, and similar offenses to common sense.

June 25, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, if you naysayers don't shut your yammering gobs, I'm going to have to give you copies of The Name of the Game Is Death for Christmas.

June 25, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., Adrian has, indeed, held forth entertainingly—or, should I say, in entertaining fashion—on Stieg Larsson and Dan Brown. A search through his blog's archives would not go amiss. Nor would reading his novels, right after you read Dan J. Marlowe's.

Your comments about taste are timely where I am concerned. I started reading "Masscult and Midcult" yesterday. I found myself wondering what had changed in popular taste from 1960 until now.

June 25, 2014  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter, RT

Yeah I'm no fan of Larsson. I struggled through book 1 but the utter bullshit of book 2 is where I had to draw the line.

June 27, 2014  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

but you really shld review JK Rowling. I'm reading Stephen King's Mr Mercedes for the newspaper, why shld I have to suffer alone?

June 27, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, which of the Larsson books in the one that includes statistics about violence against women as chapter headings? That's when I decided that Larsson was a more a dreary polemicist that a writer. And it's not that I think crime novels should not take up political questions, it's just that other writers do it so much better.

But no, I have no special desire to read Rowling. I may have mentioned that years ago I bought one of the Harry Potter books (secondhand), just to see what the fuss was about. I loss of interest somewhere on the first page.

June 27, 2014  
Anonymous Mary Beth said...

I am in love with the word tanglefootedly. Klutz has such a negative connotation, but tanglefootedly adds a sense of lightheartedness to my less graceful moments. From now on I'm a tanglefoot.

June 29, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's my point: Tanglefootedly is so over the top that Marlowe had to have been having good-natured fun with the word, poking fun at a previous generation's addiction to adverbs.

June 29, 2014  

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