Friday, April 07, 2017

THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH / ONE ENDLESS HOUR by Dan J. Marlowe

Dan J. Marlowe.  The name alone brings an echo of the hardboiled—

“I’ll be leaving one of these days, and the day I do they’ll never forget it.” 

He wrote in the heyday of the paperback original.  His best work was published by Gold Medal, and his novels stand above most of his contemporaries as hard, uncompromising masterpieces of hardboiled crime and suspense. 

His life was as strange as his fiction: he is likely the plainest womanizer exported by Massachusetts; he gambled professionally for several years; he befriended, lived with, and co-wrote several short stories with the notorious bank robber Al Nussbaum; and late in life he developed memory loss and something called aphasia—“partial or total inability to write and understand words.”     
And all that is only the beginning.  Not to mention it was parroted from the introduction, written by Marlowe’s biographer Charles Kelly, to the new trade paperback double published by Stark House Press.  It features two of Marlowe’s best novels, which really, are two halves a single story: The Name of the Game is Death (Gold Medal 1962), and One Endless Hour (Gold Medal 1969). 

The novels tell the genesis story of Marlowe’s Earl Drake series character.  Drake is not a likable man.  He is a bank robber with a predilection for killing people.  He doesn’t kill simply to kill, but kill he does.  The Name of the Game is Death opens at the scene of a botched bank robbery with Drake shot in the escape.  He and his partner split up, and Drake finds a doctor and a dark place to hide until he is recuperated and the heat is off, which is when the story really begins.  His partner went missing with the money, and Drake is broke.  The rest of Name of the Game is Drake’s search for his partner, and the money, and One Endless Hour is the fallout.

The two novels merge into one complete and engrossing story, which is not to say either is dependent on the other; both are complete with beginning, middle, and end.  However the plot in One Endless Hour is built directly from Name of the Game.  In fact, the final chapter of Name of the Game is included, with a few adjustments as the Prologue to One Endless Hour.  

Name of the Game is the stronger of the two novels.  It includes an exposition of Drake’s childhood, explaining (without apologizing) for Drake’s seeming amoral character.  Its backstory emphasis and character development is reminiscent of John D. MacDonald, but only just.  Its prose is raw and hardboiled—

“I swear both his feet were off the ground when he fired at me.  The odds must have been sixty thousand to one, but he took me in the left upper arm.  It smashed me back against the car.  I steadied myself with a hand on the roof and put two a yard behind each other right through his belt buckle.  If they had their windows open they could have heard him across town.”

—and it is more thematically related to Jim Thompson than John D.

One Endless Hour is more of a straight caper novel.  It lacks Name of the Game’s character development, and backstory, but it flashes pure action.  And, if you consider the two novels as one story, it is the climactic resolution.  The differences in pacing and plotting act to strengthen the two novels’ impact rather than diminish it, and the new Stark House edition is the perfect way to experience the story arc.  

Purchase a copy of The Name of the Game is Death / One Endless Night at Amazon.

This review was originally posted May 19, 2013, but I thought it might be of interest again.

3 comments:

Bill Kelly said...

Thanks for an excellent review, Ben; in particular for providing information on Marlowe's life. I always appreciate that effort in a review for the Paperback Original authors of the 1950s. Glad you mentioned Stark House Press, who for a while now, have been making these authors accessible in books that don't disintegrate in your hands as the originals are likely to do. Stark House also published another Marlowe, THE VENGEANCE MAN, with two other Gold Medal PBOs: Fletcher Flora's PARK AVENUE TRAMP and Charles Runyon's THE PRETTIEST GIRL I EVER KILLED. As you mention and is always the case, Stark House provides an introduction to the books as well as biographical information on the authors.
Two authors from that era that I would like to see resurrected are Harold R. Daniels and James O. Causey. Daniels had one Gold Medal to his credit and four others appeared as Dell First Editions. One of his books, THE HOUSE ON GREENAPPLE ROAD (and his only title to appear in hardcover) was filmed as a TV movie with Janet Leigh and Christopher George as police detective Dan August, a role later developed for Burt Reynolds in the DAN AUGUST TV series. James O. Causey wrote three crime fiction PBOs, the most well known perhaps being THE BABY DOLL MURDERS, as well as some Science Fiction short stories. Both Daniels and Causey wrote the spare story-driven fiction of the times, but both were adept at creating fully realized memorable characters. Hopefully a reprint publisher will bring these fine PBO talents to light again.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

First time I heard of the term "Aphasia." It sounds scary. I have a couple of Marlowe paperbacks that remain unread, which is right unfair to this fine writer.

Bill Crider said...

Glad to see the mention of THE VENGEANCE MAN, which seldom gets talked about. I regard it as another stone classic by Marlowe.