Showing posts with label Dan J. Marlowe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dan J. Marlowe. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Earl Drake #11 - Operation Deathmaker

Earl Drake, the successful action hero created by Dan J. Marlowe (1917-1986) began his literary life as a violent crook in 1962. Over time, the character was pressed into service as a U.S. Government secret agent, which brings us to this 11th installment from 1974, Operation Deathmaker.

Drake’s girlfriend is Hazel, and she’s been part of the series for a long time at this point. Melissa, Hazel’s college-age niece, is visiting Los Angeles on a vacation. When Drake is dropping her at the airport, Melissa is kidnapped by a team of professionals.

Because of his tenuous legal history as a fugitive from justice, Drake chooses to not involve police and to recover Melissa himself. This opens the door to sleuthing, chases, car-bombings, wiretaps, tradecraft and lots and lots of men’s adventure action — all anchored by Marlowe’s excellent, seasoned writing.

Unlike Drake’s heist books or his spy books, this one is Drake recovering a kidnapped girl on a very personal mission. It’s an excellent stand-alone mystery-adventure that doesn’t not require much character history from the series.

Is the kidnapping a ransom job to swipe some of Hazel and Drake’s loot? Or is this a vendetta mission to make Drake suffer? Or did young Melissa stage this kidnapping for her own reasons? These are the options Drake explores along the way.

Drake’s hunt for this missing girl takes on the qualities of a procedural mystery for much of the paperback and then an action-filled, violent vendetta novel for the climactic conclusion. It’s a damn fine men’s adventure paperback that almost - but not quite - lives up to the heights of the series’ opening two novels, The Name of the Game is Death and One Endless Hour. In any case, this one is an easy recommendation. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Scratch One Mark

Crime-fiction author Dan J. Marlowe's best literary work was the period between 1959's Doorway to Death and 1969's One Endless Hour. I've read many of the 15 novels Marlowe produced during that 10 year span, but I haven't explored his numerous short stories for the likes of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Man from U.N.C.L.E. Magazine, and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. According to's excellent database, “Scratch One Mark” may have been Marlowe's first published short-story. It appeared in the July, 1959 issue of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to read it at

The 13 page “Scratch One Mark” story features Joseph Conway as the youngest police lieutenant in the state (presumably New Hampshire, Marlowe's home at the time). Conway is a no-nonsense tough guy that is dating Judge Schofield's daughter Ann. Every Wednesday morning, Conway receives a small white-envelope containing $150 of hush-up money to ignore the backroom gambling at the local hardware store. Everyone knows about the game and even Judge Schofield and Conway both play from time to time. It's innocent enough as long as the 'ole boys keep the money at a minimum. Needless to say, Conway is flabbergasted when a player named Ted drops by and explains that some of the guys are in the hole up to $17K. 

The news creates a violent chain of events when Conway learns that Judge Schofield's nephew is a debtor to the game. The story centers around Conway's allegiances to the town and his struggles with the new high-rollers while navigating a bumpy relationship with the Schofields, which could be his future family. These conflicts collide in a savage end, but who's the victor?

What's interesting about “Scratch One Mark” is that it is written from experience. Marlowe was a professional gambler for a number of years - arguably the only thing he really did other than watching sports and writing – so there is a realism to the storytelling, a grainy know-how that blankets these seedy characters. In a few short pages, I developed a love and hate relationship for the main character. These are all of Marlowe's strengths, assets he would later develop into his anti-hero Earl Drake in the heist novel The Name of the Game is Death

“Scratch One Mark” is a short, enjoyable read and a forecast on where Marlowe was heading so early in his writing career. You can read this story for free below or HERE.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Earl Drake #06 - Operation Drumfire

After the success of The Name of the Game is Death (1962) and One Endless Hour (1969), crime-noir author Dan J. Marlowe found his heist hero in protagonist Earl Drake, the “man with nobody's face.” The Earl Drake series, for lack of a better name, includes 12 total novels, all published by Fawcett Gold Medal between 1962 and 1976. We've covered the first five novels right here at Paperback Warrior and continue our coverage with this sixth installment, Operation Drumfire, published in 1972.

In Operation Drumfire, readers become fairly familiar with Earl Drake's backstory. He was a professional bank robber who now works occasional assignments for a special agent named Erikson. It is never explained who Erikson works for beyond hinting at a sub rosa agency deep within Washington D.C. Drake's lover is a tenacious former barkeep named Hazel, who has a talent for gambling on horses and the skills to pilot the couple's airplane. She's also a sexy cowgirl that owns a sprawling ranch built from the fortunes of her former husband. Beginning in the series fifth installment, Operation Breakthrough, the duo is joined by an eccentric martial arts expert named Candy and his Chinese girlfriend Chen Yi.

In this book's opening chapters, Erikson visits Drake and Hazel to show them a video of a bank heist at a horse-racing track. Erikson's agency feels that a think-tank defense contractor called the Institute of Defense Analysis (IDA) may be behind it. The idea is that mathematicians inside the agency put together an elaborate plan to knock off the track. Now, due to Erikson's involvement in a meeting between senior leaders in Mexico and the US, he's touching shoulders with IDA. His growing suspicions of their abilities may lead to chaos with the meeting. He wants Drake and Hazel to infiltrate the agency by going undercover as mathematicians inside their headquarters. 

Honestly, I have no idea what is happening in this book. None of it makes any sense to me. Normally, I can stay fairly entrenched with whatever Marlowe is springing, but I'm not even sure he knew what was going on. It's like a chain of events including a Black Panthers type of military presence in Oakland that Candy must deal with. Then, Drake has to fake his math skills inside the agency while Hazel gains clues for something or another. There's an explosion somewhere and a firefight at the end. It was like Marlowe had individual events he wanted to schedule in the narrative, but had no logical way to connect them. 

But, it isn't all completely lost. Drake changes his old snub-nosed .38 revolver for an automatic .9mm. I felt this was a major change for the character, like a promotion into the big leagues. Also, one of the four main characters is killed off in this installment. Shamefully, I felt good about that. Other than those positives, Operation Drumfire is more like Operation Dumpsterfire. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Johnny Killain #03 - Doom Service

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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, February 10, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 30

On our 30th episode, it's a Fawcett Gold Medal All-Review Extravaganza! We discuss vintage paperbacks by John D. MacDonald, Lionel White, Dan J. Marlowe, Basil Heatter and more! We are available on all podcast platforms or stream below. Download directly HERE.

Listen to "Episode 30: Fawcett Gold Medal All-Review Extravaganza" on Spreaker.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 24

It’s the end of the year and the last episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast for 2019. In celebration of our inaugural year, we are revisiting the greatest books we read this year along with lots of edgy vintage paperback talk. Stream below or at your favorite podcast provider for our “Best of 2019” extravaganza. Download directly HERE Listen to "Episode 24: Best of 2019" on Spreaker.

Monday, August 19, 2019


“Strongarm” is an early stand-alone novel from esteemed crime-noir author Dan J. Marlowe (1917-1986). From 1959 until 1961, Marlowe wrote a five-book series starring hotel detective Johnny Killain. Marlowe's first stand-alone, “Backfire”, was released by Berkley in 1961. In 1962, the author penned his magnum opus with “The Name of the Game is Death”, the first of a long-running series of action-adventure novels starring heist extraordinaire Earl Drake. 1963's “Strongarm” is the second stand-alone entry in Marlowe's impressive bibliography. Written on the heels of his masterpiece, does “Strongarm” possess the same level of quality?

In Earl Drake fashion, Marlowe presents an unnamed protagonist using the alias Pete Karma. Pete graduated from Ohio State and served his father during a successful political run that colored by some minor affiliations with the mob. After his father died, Pete served in the Korean War, fighting in the Chosin Reservoir as a U.S. Marine. After his discharge, Pete joined his father's successor, Charlie Risko, in a crime-ridden political reign. This is where things really turn sour.

As an assumed enforcer, Pete is asked to rough up a labor representative suspected of conspiring with the press exposing mob interference in local politics. After a journalist is found murdered in a hotel, Risko arranges for Pete to take the fall. Sentenced to a 15-year prison sentence for a crime he didn't commit, Pete begins making plans to escape. After two and a half years behind bars, Pete alligns with Risko's rival kingpin in Tony Falcaro. Together, Falcaro and Pete escape prison with a promise from Falcaro's gang that they will always be there for Pete if he needs any future favors. This would prove to be an important commitment.

Pete goes to work in Chicago as a bartender, carefully avoiding attention while planning his vengeance on Risko, his attorney Foley and a henchman named Joe Williams. However, Marlowe really throws a wrench in the gears and switches the narrative with a surprising plot twist. While trailing Williams, Pete witnesses a fiery car crash. Among the wreckage is an arm handcuffed to a briefcase containing foreign documents and $750,000 in cash. Is Pete now the target of a number of warring factions? 

Very few crime novels of this era can match Marlowe's influential caper novel. However, like most of the author's stand-alone works, his ability and talent certainly stands out even in a crowded room of his contemporaries. I would speculate that Marlowe recycled some of this novel's elements in future works. This novel's Gussie character resembles the 70s spunky flower child Chryssie from “Operation Flashpoint” (1970). The recruitment of various Falcaro mobsters is reminiscent of Earl Drake's alliance with anti-Castro factions in “Operation Fireball” (1969). Pete's ability to remove a lower dental plate reflects the disguise Drake would use with his hairpiece. In fact, the very idea of an unnamed protagonist serving time in a mental hospital can be found in both “In the Name of the Game is Death” (1962) and it's sequel, “One Endless Hour” (1969). It's safe to assume “Strongarm” had a lot of influence on the Earl Drake novels.

In terms of early Marlowe work, “Strongarm”, along with 1966's “Four for the Money,” are mandatory reads for crime-noir fans. The more I delve, collect and read 1960s crime novels, authors like Dan J. Marlowe and John D. MacDonald certainly appear to be the cream of the crop. Do yourself a favor and buy, download or borrow this book. It's a real treasure.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Four for the Money

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. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Johnny Killain #02 - Killer with a Key

Dan J. Marlowe's fans will quickly point to 'Earl Drake' as the author's finest work. However, before creating that 60s-70s series, Marlowe had a five-book run of hotel detective novels starring protagonist 'Johnny Killain'. The first, “Doorway to Death”, released in 1957 via Avon, followed by this sequel, “Killer with a Key”, the same year. 

Killain's detective work runs parallel  with the night shift duties at Hotel Duarte, an older establishment in New York City. The series debut convinced readers that Killain is the real deal – a no nonsense, tough guy that worked for the pre-cursor of the CIA during WWII. So, when Killain's ex-wife, Ellen Saxon, is found murdered in his hotel...we know heads will roll.

The novel's narrative has Killain rescue his ex-wife from a hail of bullets. After physically ripping a car door handle off in the firefight, Killain manages to hide Ellen in a hotel suite. It's only a matter of time before Killain finds her strangled to death on the bed. The culprit points to Killain's friend and co-worker Vic, but Vic may be taking the heat for another party. 

What Marlowe perfected in the series debut was the interplay between hot-headed Killain and the NYPD. Here, it is duplicated in the same fashion with equally entertaining results. While Detective Cuneo runs afoul of Killain's private investigation, he needs Killain to do the dirty work his department won't allow. The narrative follows Killain's hardboiled trail as he navigates an underworld of insurance rackets. The murder puts him at odds with not only the police, but friends and allies that may be involved in running a fraudulent business out of the hotel. 

While not as action-packed as Marlowe's Earl Drake, this series more than makes up for it with the lovable cast of characters. The hotel's staff, including Killain's lover, enhances the story with familiar faces that plays like an episode of “Cheers”. The heart of this story and series is Johnny Killain – the smart, loud, fist-fighting man's man. And, as billed, Marlowe is exceptional. This one is a recommended read for crime novel enthusiasts.

Buy a copy of this book HERE 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Earl Drake #05 - Operation Breakthrough

After the success of 1969's “One Endless Hour”, the sequel to “The Name of the Game is Death”, author Dan J. Marlowe placed all of his writing endeavors firmly on the path of “Drake”, the robber turned spy. Beginning the spy portion of the series in 1969's “Operation Fireball”, Marlowe went on to write nine more Drake titles. The only non-Drake novel he wrote after 1969 was a 1982 installment of 'Phoenix Force' as Gar Wilson (“Guerilla Games”). Marlowe then wrote short stories until his death in 1986.

The series fifth title, “Operation Breakthrough”, is a really fun exercise in the jailbreak formula. The novel begins with Drake and his colleague Karl Erikson breaking into a Caribbean bank in Nassau. Erikson, a makeshift spy in his own right, made his series debut in “Operation Fireball”. He quickly made friends with Drake and has assigned him to global bank heists for government checks. Thus, the novel's beginning makes sense to longtime readers. However, as the two snatch highly secure documents from the vault, Erikson is nabbed by authorities as Drake makes the escape.

Stuck on the island with swarms of police, Drake crashes with a former associate named Candy, an African-American kung-fu gambler that was introduced briefly in “Operation Flashpoint”. Drake takes no time bedding down a massage parlor mistress before eventually escaping the island and the hook. Game over so soon? Not hardly.

Drake has the secure documents in a briefcase but has no idea where to return it. The problem is that Drake was never supplied any credentials or contacts for Erikson or the department he works for. Returning the suitcase and documents is a cumbersome endeavor. From New York to DC, Drake hits brick walls attempting to locate Erikson's branch and personnel. Dropping the suitcase randomly (a hilarious chapter), Hazel and Drake are back on the trail to break Erikson out of the clink. Thus the “bank heist” formula these books utilize is still in place. From here it is recruitment of the pieces and then ultimately the jailbreak adventure. Marlowe knows where the meat and potatoes are for his guests. 

“Operation Breakthrough” is extremely enjoyable with Marlowe practicing all of the strategy and game play the series is known for. He's a master storyteller and this adventure really throws out the exciting - yet familiar - elements that we expect. Intrigue, danger, cops, robbers and banks. This one is recommended if not altogether predictable. I'm good with it.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Johnny Killain #01 - Doorway to Death

Before reaching the highest echelon with his 'Earl Drake' series of the 60s and 70s, Marlowe began his career with another series – 'Johnny Killain'. The series and author debut, “Doorway to Death”, was released by Avon in 1957. It was followed by four more titles over the course of  a two year period, all starring hotel strongman/detective Johnny Killain. 

Killain works the night shift at the Hotel Duarte in New York City. We learn about halfway through the book that Killain worked for the Office of Strategic Services, the early version of what we now call the CIA. Along with the hotel's owner, Willie Martin, the two scoured Europe in WWII working various espionage and wartime assignments. Later, the two joined a Partisan group working in France, Italy and Spain. After, Willie retired and invested in the Hotel Duarte and hired Killain to be the strongman of the place as a favor for pulling his ass out of the fire on missions. Aside from that, Marlowe really doesn't provide many other details about Killain or his past.

With muscles, good looks and a sense of mystery...the man rarely sleeps alone. His main squeeze is the hotel's switchboard operator, Sally. She's a loveable, innocent character who apparently lives to serve Killain at the hotel. Frequently she's behind the calls, listening for details and danger and reporting it to Killain. While not as strong or cunning, in some ways she's the predecessor for Earl Drake's love interest Hazel. This relationship is imperative because Killain can't be everywhere at once, and even the most valiant hero needs an ally. 

The narrative explores criminal activity that is encroaching on the hotel. In one remarkable scene, Killain is confronted in an elevator by two pimps wanting to run goods through the business. They strong-arm Killain into a close quarters fight in the cab. He dumps them in an alleyway, only to receive more threats and violence. After being blindsided by a couple of enforcers, Killain begins to unravel who's behind the intrusion and how the hotel's owner and guests factor into the deal. While Killain is disposing of the threats and refusing the bribes, the police offer a deal – join their cause and work as an informant. Killain refuses, but soon finds assistance from Lieutenant Dameron, a character that I hope will return in future books. 

With corpses in the kitchen and freezer, Killain eventually goes from bouncer to detective, prowling around hallways and rooms, staking out various suspects and piecing together clues to determine what sort of transaction is going down. It's this part of the narrative where the book excels. The action is sparse but really well written. It doesn't reach the heights of the 'Earl Drake' books, but most will agree this series is inferior to those books. The cast of characters are diverse and aren't all together needy or reliant on Killain. The character, coupled with Sally, is very enjoyable and provides just enough mystery to keep it intriguing. 

“Doorway to Death” is a compelling story brought to life by a true master of the genre. I continue to be in awe of Marlowe.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Earl Drake #04 - Flashpoint

1970's “Flashpoint” is the fourth novel in Dan J. Marlowe's 'Earl Drake' series. It's in the series minority as only one of three books in the 11-book run not to adopt the title of “Operation” something or another (although the reprinted Prologue version adds "Operation"). The book's predecessor was “Operation Fireball” and it's successor is “Operation Breakpoint”. While most Marlowe fans will look to the early series as the author's best work (“The Name of the Game is Death”, “One Endless Hour”), the heist-gone-spy formula is still enjoyable knowing it's a decline in quality compared to those genre classics. I'm probably in it for the long run just because I enjoy the Drake character so much and coupled with Marlowe's gift of storytelling...well there aren't many negatives to the series thus far.

In “Flashpoint”, Drake boards a plane in New York headed to Las Vegas. His girlfriend, series mainstay Hazel, has asked that he transport $75K and deliver it in person to an unknown individual. None of this is important, because the plane is hijacked in flight by Turks. They kill the jews, stewardess and pilot, take all the cash and valuables from the passengers (including the 75K) and force the plane down in a stretch of rural desert. Drake, pulling his .38 (it was a flight of hardmen that I couldn't quite figure out), shoots one of the hijackers but the rest escape. Drake heads back to Hazel's ranch and explains how he lost the cash.

Soon, Drake's old pal Karl Erikson shows up at the ranch. In the prior book, Erikson was an undercover operative that swayed Drake into assisting him in stealing money from Cuba. Drake didn't realize until the end that it was a government job and that Erikson was on the up and up. To show his appreciation, Erikson agreed to sort of wipe the slate clean on Drake's criminal record and keep law enforcement off of his back trail. In a threatening way, Erikson asks that Drake join him on a hunt for the hijacker given he's the only passenger on board that really got a good look at the gunmen.

From here, the show takes off to New York City where Erikson puts Drake on the trail of the hijacking coordinator, a Middle-Easterner who is running drugs in the city for profits that go back home to train terrorists to fight Israel. 1970. Nothing ever changes. Drake scouts a bar for a number of days and eventually finds the money runner, a horse-hooked beauty that Drake boinks on three occasions. With her help, Drake infiltrates the network and does what he does best – the old bank heist routine.

Marlowe gives us a great deal to snack on with “Flashpoint”. He knows his audience and he puts Drake into the heist bit to please the readers. As an added bonus, there's the safe cracking adventure and a unique scene where an envelope's contents must be captured without breaking the glued seal. Fascinating. The author also gives us a pitiful, doped up flower child that Drake attempts to rehabilitate. The negative is the slow build in the bar scenes, the lengthy stake-out that even has Drake wondering if he should just walk away out of boredom. There's also really odd scenes where Drake is peeping on a nude-shoot that takes place next to Erikson's office. Later, he comes back with a camera and films a covert porn scene from a janitor closet. These scenes don't necessarily add anything to the narrative and seem like filler to get the book to the required 180-page objective. 

“Flashpoint” is a fine 'Earl Drake' entry, slightly better than “Operation Fireball” with an ode to what makes this series and character great – bank heists, safe cracking, moving money and violence. I hope to see more Hazel next time though.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Earl Drake #03 - Operation Fireball

 The general consensus is that Dan J. Marlowe's “The Name of the Game is Death” and “One Endless Hour” make the best of list for the hard-boiled genre. Those novels, released in 1962 and 1968, were riveting caper romps that symbolized everything we loved about the genre – peril, betrayal, guns and money. It's first person narration from the man with no name (or face!) was mesmerizing, painting a lifespan mired in corruption, vengeance, angst and adversity. While not overly complex, it was deep reading that allowed the reader a spot in the hotseat. We were staring down the barrel as much as the storyteller – the smoking gun a cautionary warning of the hot winds of Hell. While both of Marlowe's novels are held in high regard, those opinions are much weaker for the third and subsequent books of the 'Drake' series. Instead of jerking a .38 Special and navigating vault rooms, 1969's “Operation Fireball” provides M-16s, claymore mines and dodging MIG-17s. It's just a totally different style that isn't altogether's just seeing the characters on a different stage.

Three-fourths of Marlowe's “Operation Fireball” runs the same playbook as “One Endless Hour”. Earl Drake (his real name was never provided by the author) takes a heist job to steal millions from a Cuban military compound. Replace a Philly bank with a Cuban stronghold and you get the same strategy. The majority of the book is the assembly of players – Drake, Hazel (Drake's lover from the first two novels), Erikson, Wilson and Slater. Each have a role in the heist, complete from transmission, boats, firearms, locks and funding. The book methodically assembles the team, outlines the mission and provides the stakes in much the same way Marlowe aligned the team in the last book. It's the closing chapters that really set it apart.

International waters shows a metamorphosis from caper to spy. Drake is faking his way onto a US Destroyer ship, then faking his way into the Cuban military. From brothels to bars, the team penetrates Havana while dodging firing squads, fighter jets, machine guns and mines. Essentially, it's a new breed of Drake fiction that really showcases a completely different type of storytelling. The book's ending conclusively proves that the series is taking a different direction in much the same way Bolan transformed at number 39. It isn't necessarily a reflection of poor writing, as those books and this specific book still provide entertainment and enjoyment. It's just a different way to park the horse. Whether you continued the series post-1968 or not, Marlowe delivered quality storytelling on “Operation Fireball”. I've yet to explore the rest of the series or any of Marlowe's stand-alones, but based on this entry, I'm probably all in.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, March 9, 2018

Earl Drake #02 - One Endless Hour

It took seven years for author Dan J. Marlowe to release the sequel to his masterpiece, 1962's caper novel “The Name of the Game is Death”. Between 1962 and 1969 he would release seven stand-alones, all through the Fawcett Gold Medal line and in the crime/caper genres. 1969's “One Endless Hour” picks up with a slightly modified prologue of the prior book's last chapter. In it, a severely burned Chet Arnold (later to go by the name Earl Drake for this and the series) survives a car chase and firefight, and ends up behind bars in a prison's hospital wing. 

The opening third of the novel is an elaborate but articulate escape plan hatched by Drake. These events purposely recalls Drake's turbulent childhood and defiance of authority. He's had back against the bricks numerous times and, aside from a few potential hangups, can escape prison. There's an immense story surrounding a surgeon from Pakistan and Drake's disfigured face and hands. In an unbelievable series of events, the surgeon is able to cosmetically repair most of Drake's face while returning use back to his hands. This was a bit of hyperbole on Marlowe's part and probably detracted from the story. We'll let it pass because it's conducive to the overall series. 

The middle of the novel is Drake's financial misfortune (with a little payback) and immense scouting and planning of the next bank job. He meets up with a couple of recommended accomplices and sacks a makeup artist briefly (Marlowe is never explicit here). The next bank job is a large facility in Philadelphia, but the three do a quick run at a smaller bank and score a measly $6K. 

The last third is the saving grace and makes up for the slower concoction of scout, plan rehabilitate. The bank job has the mandatory “wrench in the gears” and it's fun to watch the characters perform under stressful conditions. The wild ending is an absolute shocker that once again sets up the obligatory continuance in book three, 1969's “Operation Fireball”. While inferior to it's predecessor, this one is still highly recommended. Marlowe and Drake are an entertaining couple that deliver the goods. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Earl Drake #01 - The Name of the Game is Death

Dan J. Marlowe was cursed with the wrong last name. Many in the genre, including myself, confused the author with Stephen Marlowe and Chandler's own iconic character Philip Marlowe. It's unfair, but some of the burden falls on the fan/reader's own ignorance. I fall into that category every time. Marlowe was an odd bird, with a lifespan that's rather peculiar and complex. Born in 1914, he was an accountant and avid gambler, validating his inclusion of poker and horses in his work as influences through experience. His wife died in 1956 and things drastically changed from there.

His love for writing and booze were support mechanisms that provoked his move to New York to write full-time. After five books about hotel detective Johnny Killian, Marlowe would go on to write the influential masterstroke - “The Name of the Game is Death”. It's an influential caper novel firmly entrenched under the much broader crime genre umbrella. Megaseller Stephen King dedicated his own noir work, “The Colorado Kid”, to Marlowe deeming him the “hardest of the hard-boiled”. The book is worthy of King's praise.

In the hard-boiled tradition of the first person narrative, we are introduced to the man with no name. Later, as the series continued (and arguably declined), the character is referred to as Earl Drake. In this book he uses an alias of Chet Arnold, fundamentally a loner who does bank jobs for a living. The story opens with Arnold and his mute partner Bunny knocking over a Phoenix bank. The hired driver panics and is fatally shot while Arnold takes one in the shoulder in an escape with Bunny. Most of the bag goes to Bunny, along with instructions for his partner to drive to Florida's gulf coast, find a small town and mail a thousand in hundreds to him. Once Arnold (at this point going by Roy Martin) heals, they will meet up. That plan goes to Hell in a handbag.

After one week of cabbage by mail, a letter arrives from Bunny saying he is in trouble and for Arnold to lay low until things clear up. The kicker – Bunny says he will call Arnold. Bunny is mute. After healing up, the novel then converts from recovery to road trip, encompassing Arnold's drive from Arizona to Hudson, Florida. It's this road venture that allows Marlowe to explain Arnold's past – equally as absorbing and intriguing as Bunny and the missing cash. We learn Arnold is 100% a loner, dedicated to solo strength and perseverance. His childhood is a suburban oddity, from a dead pet to knocking over convenience stores. Arnold did five years of hots and a cot, and swore he would never go back. 

The book then moves to a bit of a slow, but entertaining burn as Arnold acclimates himself with the tiny town and has a fling with the lovable and fiery barkeep Hazel. There's a side-story on an underground illegal supplier from Alabama, while the story unfolds on Bunny's whereabouts and the missing $200K. The finale doesn't disappoint and has Arnold hammer back, pedal down in a whirlwind of headlights and gunfire. The book's ending defiantly pronounces Arnold's journey is far from over. 

Again, it's Marlowe's masterpiece, a tour-de-force that showcases everything we love and cherish in the crime and caper epic. Arnold/Drake is the perfect anti-hero – methodical, calculating, ruthless but altogether lovable - from across town. The supporting cast of Hazel, corrupt deputy Blaze, the luscious Lucille and the spunky youngster Jed enhance the story with small town charm. It's this tease that puts Arnold teetering ever so close to the brink of normalcy.  The novel's sequel is “One Endless Hour” before Drake and Marlowe take the series and character into the spy genre. Both “The Name of the Game is Death” and “One Endless Hour” have been reprinted as an omnibus through Stark House Press. 

Kudos to author Paul Bishop for writing a terrific piece on Marlowe here.

Buy a copy of this book HERE