Showing posts with label Johnny Killain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Johnny Killain. Show all posts

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

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, 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.