Megaseller Stephen King dedicated his own noir work, “The Colorado Kid,” to fellow author Dan J. Marlowe deeming him the “hardest of the hard-boiled.” Marlowe was a turbulent writer who penned one of the best crime-noir books in history, 1962's caper novel “The Name of the Game is Death.” Marlowe also wrote seven stand-alone paperbacks published by Fawcett Gold Medal between 1962 and 1969, and “Four for the Money” (1966) might be one of the best of that period.
The book introduces us to Jim “Slick” Quick, a former card hustler serving his last days in prison. Upon his release, Quick drives to Desert City, Nevada to plan a casino heist, but he won't be a sole perpetrator this time. Behind bars, Slick compiles a team from a trio of fellow inmates who are all within months of their parole:
Blackie - the former gunman is the muscle of the crew supplying the seed money to fund the job,
Smitty - the safe cracker with the technical know-how to get to the loot,
Johnnie - a young kid from the prison exercise yard who overhears the plan and demands a piece of the action.
The fictional town of Desert City is nestled between Reno and Las Vegas. It’s a smutty cesspool of casinos and hotels that makes a perfect target for a robbery. While planning the heist, Slick obtains a job as a draftsman for the county and meets a lover named Nancy. He begins to get rather comfortable in his cover as a legit citizen.
As the weeks and months go by, we begin to see two very different versions of Slick. One persona is heist strategist planning the casino robbery and subsequent escape. But the second is an endearing reformed criminal who is cautiously planting roots as a straight member of society with a career and a girl. Once the gang arrives, Slick’s internal conflict provides the emotional core of the novel.
Marlowe is once again masterful. His ability to navigate the criminal mind while developing lovable, timeless characters is simply awe-inspiring. The chemistry between Slick and Johnnie, for example, is reminiscent of John Steinbeck's “Of Mice and Men.” We can foresee the tragedy looming in the distance, but we just can't look away. While readers may be disappointed by the lack of action and gunplay within the paperback's first 140-pages, the author's exposition on the likelihood of a criminal truly reforming is a treasure worth seeking. “Four for the Money” is a paperback classic from one of the genre's most talented storytellers and should not be missed.
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