Before his popular Earl Drake series of heist adventures, Dan J. Marlowe authored a five-book series of hotel detective novels. Beginning with the 1959 debut, Doorway to Death, Marlowe introduced Johnny Killain, a brawny WW2 veteran who works nights at the Hotel Duarte in New York City. The author's consistent cast of characters includes Sally, the building's switchboard operator who also serves as Killain's main squeeze. I was thrilled with the series first two installments and I have been anxious to read the third entry, Doom Service (1960).
In the book's opening chapter, Killain receives a call from a bartender at the Rollin' Stone Tavern asking for him to pick up “his boy”. Readers quickly learn that the boy is Sally's brother Charlie, a young and successful boxer. Earlier in the night, Charlie experienced his first loss in a high-profile bout. Many think the match was fixed and that getting knocked-out in the sixth round was actually a high-priced dive. Killain finds Charlie nearly dead drunk at the bar and offers to take him home. However, two armed thugs barge into the bar and Charlie is fatally shot.
Readers follow Killain as he backtracks the events leading up to Charlie's boxing loss. In doing so, Killain stumbles upon the lucrative gambling circuit and a high-roller named Manfredi. Killain learns that Charlie was supposed to lose in the fourth round and that Manfredi had lost a fortune on the fight. Adding to the confusion is Sally's discovery that Charlie was holding over $100K in his bank deposit book. Was this a payout to lose in the fourth or sixth round? Did someone “re-fix” the fight for the sixth round to throw Manfredi? The answer is buried in a cast of boxing characters from referees to fight veterans, from ringside doctors to journalists. By attempting to solve Charlie's murder, Killain exposes the city's core of corruption.
Despite its silly name, Doom Service was an iron-fisted, hardboiled crime novel that should appeal to fans of the “no nonsense” approach of Mickey Spillane. There's crooked guys, shady ladies and a lot of tough guy, knuckle-up negotiations. Marlowe spends a few chapters revealing the intricacies of Sally's inheritance in terms of IRS regulations, estate taxes and monetary penalties. I'm guessing that Marlowe wrote this in the midst of settling his wife's estate – she died in 1957 – or this was simply an exercise to reveal what he learned from the experience. It felt a little out of place, but eventually circles back to the central story and ties in to Charlie's possession of the funds.
Doom Service is on par with the first two Johnny Killain novels although I would be remiss if I didn't criticize the author's setting of the story. I enjoyed the prior books due to Killain working inside of the hotel, not out of it. This novel puts more emphasis on Killain as a private-eye, including romps with a sexy secretary and a lounge act singer. I think I prefer Killain solving mysteries involving dead guests or murder inside the hotel. Nevertheless, Doom Service delivered high-quality goods right to my doorstep.
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