Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Dan J. Marlowe by Charles Kelly
Ed here: BIll Crider and Patti Abbott have both linked to this article. I'm doing so to remind everybody that this excellent article takes a fresh look at a writer whose best books are difficult to forget. When I finished the article I picked up The Vengeance Man by Marlowe and read it in two sittings. Then I remembered why I always found him--despite my admiration for him--troubling.
Here's a game for you. In one word describe the impression of the work of the hardboiled masters leave on you. For instance my choices would be:
Chandler - sentimental
Woolrich - fatalistic
Spillane - rage
Goodis - tormented
Thompson - psychotic
Rabe - cynical
Stark - ruthless
My opinion only. I'm doing this because I was surprised, after reading The Vengeance Man for the first time in years, that the single word that describes the novel for me is misanthropic. There's a nastiness here I don't find even in Jim Thompson perhaps because Thompson's people clearly have mental problems. Thompson's mind never seemed to be too far away from the mental hospital he wrote about. Thus there's a sense of suffering in most of his work that gives it a humanity. Not so in Marlowe's work. It's the misanthropy that drives his books that makes him important. But it's difficult to rest easy for at least a few hours after closing the covers for the last time.
Here's Charles Kelly in The Los Angeles Times:
Hollywood is for the young and tough, a place where you must be beautiful simply to survive, let alone prosper. God help you if you’re homely, aging, and physically beaten. Double that if you’ve lost the creative skills you’ve counted on, and forgotten much of your life and all the people you’ve known. Double that again if you’re a writer. Let’s say it’s 1978 and you are Dan J. Marlowe, once one of the hottest suspense novelists of your day, author of such hard-boiled Fawcett Gold Medal paperbacks as The Name of the Game is Death, The Vengeance Man, Never Live Twice, and the Operation books, featuring a bank robber turned international agent. It’s 1978, yes, and the market for that kind of book has evaporated. You’re 64 years old, suffering from amnesia, glaucoma, and the consequences of a stroke. It’s painful for you even to lift your hands high enough to type.
Though you’re chubby and unathletic and wear dark, horn-rimmed glasses, in the past you’ve been hell with the ladies. Now those ladies are ghosts to you. You’ve spent more than 15 years living in Harbor Beach, Michigan, a picturesque, isolated town on the shore of Lake Huron. You made a good living, served on the city council, partied with the Rotary Club. And you found time to indulge in your own secret sexual quirkiness. Now you’re broke and short of options. So you’re moving to the City of Fallen Angels to share an apartment with a former bank robber. To try to put your writing life back together, maybe even get movies made from your books.
You’re a Hollywood Untouchable because you’re a lousy money-maker, and you’ll stay that way. People hear your name and confuse you with Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler’s iconic detective, or with your mystery-writing contemporary, Stephen Marlowe. You’re the wrong Marlowe, in the wrong time, the wrong place. So what are the chances you’ll be remembered with fondness? What are the odds that nearly four decades later, megastar horror writer Stephen King will honor your talent by dedicating a novel to you? Well, you’ve always been a gambler — a professional one for seven years. You’ve played long shots and won. Maybe you’ll do it again.
For the rest go here:
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You are right that there is something troubling about Marlowe's books. As good as his best books are, there is definitely a misanthropic edge there. And when you are dealing with his less-than-best books, such as his series about the Bellman turned amateur detective, the incessant sexism gets really old and isn't compensated for by the suspense and action in his best books, including "The Name of the Game is Death", "The Vengeance Man", "Strongarm", and "Shake a Crooked Town".
This was a wonderful article by Mr. Kelly. After reading one of the later Earl Drake novels recently, OPERATION DEATHMAKER, I may have to revise my longstanding impression that the Drake novels after ONE ENDLESS HOUR were all inferior thief-turned-spy formula. (Blame a fading memory and probably selective reading of the later books.) DEATHMAKER has a fair amount of grit, calls on Drake to exercise his skills as a professional crook, and has nary a spy in sight. I agree, Ed, that VENGEANCE MAN is colder than Thompson's stuff, maybe because Thompson's sociopaths seem to be victims of their psychoses, impulsive, where Marlowe's protagonist is calculating and deliberate. NAME OF THE GAME and ONE ENDLESS HOUR seem to me more cynical than misanthropic (the lawmen and well-to-do suburban families of "normal" society are no more honest than the lawbreaker hero). STRONGARM has a sweet if unorthodox family in its criminal hero, his strong-willed and loving girlfriend, and her spirited teenage niece.
Good letter, Fred. I agree that some of Marlowe's books (which I admire) aren't as misanthropic but one thing that redeems almost all of Thompson's work, major or minor, is the sense of enormous human sorrow. I'll have to rearead Strongarm, which I remember liking very much.
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