Stephen Marlowe (born Milton Lesser, 1928-2008) is best known for his series of private-eye novels featuring Chester Drum. Along with notable science-fiction work, Lesser authored over 20 stand-alone novels. My introduction to the writer is his first work under the pen name Stephen Marlowe, the 1954 Ace paperback “Catch the Brass Ring”.
Gideon Frey is an Army veteran fresh off of a violent tour in the Korean War. Fighting side by side, Frey had struck up a close bond with fellow soldier Bert Arthur. Near the end of service, Bert offered Frey a job when they returned stateside. As “Catch the Brass Ring” opens, readers learn that Frey has just arrived at a Coney Island amusement park called Tolliver's. Only instead of a warm welcome from the owner Bert, he finds police cars, an ambulance...and a body bag.
Marlowe attempts to keep readers engaged by running two plots simultaneously. The first involves Frey's investigation into his friend's murder. His suspects range from two gay massage therapists (readers will need to overlook the historical stereotypes), a bizarre pizzeria owner, a hot female employee and Bert's mourning girlfriend Karen. On the suspect list himself, Frey also must contend with the local cops who are quick to point fingers at a new stranger in town.
The second story-line is a sensual love triangle as Frey falls for a beautiful heiress named Allison. She's worth a fortune thanks to her wealthy, blind husband Gregory (think of Anna Nicole Smith's old sugar daddy). But, Allison is a nympho and demands sex at the most impromptu times. In one hilarious scene, Frey and Allison make love on a small boat with the blind Gregory just a few feet away! Frey is torn between his heated desire for Allison and Bert's grieving girlfriend Karen, who turns to Frey for sexual healing.
For argument's sake, this is really just a romance novel with a crime thrown in. I think the cover speaks volumes and conveys the above sentiment. I'd speculate that most buyers weren't reading only crime-fiction, especially considering the “Stephen Marlowe” name would have been unfamiliar at this point in time. There's a second-rate murder mystery, but it's just not very interesting. Those plot points are few and far between and are just fodder to keep Frey jumping from Karen to Allison and back again.
Overall, crime-fiction fans can stay clear of this one. I caught the “brass ring” and wasn't terribly impressed.
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