Toland is a convict. He is in the fourth year of a ride for armed robbery. The first few months in the joint he was a trouble-maker, but over the last few years he has settled into a routine. He even earned a job in the welding-shop.
That is where he is—the welding-shop—when he is summoned to the warden’s office. When he arrives the warden is unusually cordial and the detective who put him away is quietly sitting in the corner. It doesn’t take a genius to figure something is up. He is nervous until the warden tells him another criminal took responsibility for the job he was convicted. And then he knows what’s up: He is free. And Toland knows exactly what he is going to do on the outside.
“The Short and Simple Annals” is the first Dan J. Marlowe short story I have read and I was absolutely wowed. The plot was perfectly executed with one more twist than expected. The language was fluid, hardboiled, and simply stylish:
“I’d just come out from under the welding hood and was inspecting a silver seam intended to staunch a leak in a battered radiator when “Fat” Carson, the welding-shop hack, touched me on the arm. “You’re wanted in the warden’s office, Toland,” he said. He led the way to the door, unlocking it and then carefully relocking it behind us, observing the regular procedure.”
The tension and suspense are ratcheted tighter from paragraph to paragraph, and the mystery is compelling and surprising. When I figured I had the ending nailed Mr. Marlowe pulled the rug out.
“The Short and Simple Annals” is a gem of a hardboiled story. It is an unusual take on the revenge story, and it is a reminder that it is the things we forget that put us in a jam. And it is very much worth seeking out.
“The Short and Simple Annals” was originally published in 1964. I read it in Alfred Hitchcock’s Noose Report published in 1966 by Dell.