Friday, November 21, 2008

"The Short and Simple Annals" by Dan J. Marlowe

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.


August West said...

It's nice to see a posting on a Dan J. Marlowe short story. An author that showed the reader the other side of the fence, characters that will spit out chucks of concrete at you. One of the premier hardboiled authors of the 60s.

Love his novels (especially "Four for the Money")and short stories. (when I can find them) I never read “The Short and Simple Annals” but I bet I have a copy of Alfred Hitchcock’s Noose Report is a box somewhere.

Great review of a short story. I'm going to check on those boxes.

Ben Boulden said...

August: I love the sentence "characters that will spit out chunks of concrete at you." The prose Marlowe uses is about as tough as anything I've ever read. And, in the case of "The Short and Simple Annals" at least, the protagonist was about as tough as they come.

I have four Dan Marlowe novels sitting on my bookshelf right now: THE VENGEANCE MAN, THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH, and a couple of his OPERATION novels. Every time I start a new novel I think it should be one of those four, but I always settle on something else. "The Short and Simple Annals" reminded me I need to read one of his novels, and quickly.

Also, thanks for the heads-up about FOUR FOR THE MONEY. I'll keep my eyes open for it.

August West said...

Ben: If you want tough, I recommend you read "THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH" it's the first Earl Drake novel before Marlowe turned them into the OPERATION series. I have fond memories of that novel.

Great Blog you have....

Ben Boulden said...

August: Thanks for the complements on the blog. I have more fun than I would like to admit doing it.

I'll have to put THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH on my reading list. I didn't realize it is the first Earl Drake novel. It makes it even more interesting.