Showing posts with label Earl Drake. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Earl Drake. 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.

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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