To say that noir writer Dan J. Marlowe was an enigma is to understate. A respectable Chamber of Commerce type, he enjoyed spanking women and creating some of the great dark classics of our time. Novelist Charles Kelly tell us all about him with stylish skill and admirable detail.
From being a small-time business-politician in Harbor Bar, Michigan to living and collaborating with former bank robber Albert Nussbaum, Kelly presents us with a man we observe without ever quite understanding. To his credit Kelly forgoes offering too-easy Freudian insights. There is no "Rosebud" to be found here.
Following the death of his wife, Marlowe set out to become a writer by moving ultimately to New York. When he finally came up with a series of hotel crime novels his book career began. Just as I've read few crime author biographies that include the same huge number of interviews by people who knew the subejct, I've read even fewer that so deftly limn the creative process. Stephen King contributes to this with excerpts from his piece on knowing Marlowe.
When the seminal novels came, THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH and the others, they pointed hardboiled fiction in a new direction. There would be no third act attempt on the protagonist's part seeking sympathy or understanding for his violence--even Lou Ford in Jim Thompson's THE KILLER INSIDE ME pleads for understanding--nor any sense of remorse. Fuck you is the message.
Marlowe's life was not easy. Kelly shows us the true life of most freelance fiction writers of the time. The constant struggle for money for shelter, food and something resembling peace of mind. Marlowe's health was never much good and got even worse when he developed amnesia. Neither his writing noir his career ever really recovered.
I still remember buying THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH on a metal spin rack whenI was in college. No novel except THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY? had ever shocked me to the same degree.
Marlowe had created a masterpiece. So has Charles Kelly.