Showing posts with label Stephen Marlowe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stephen Marlowe. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Blood of my Brother

Roll out the red carpet. Vacuum it. Fluff it a little with the heel of your shoe. Why? The festivities are about to begin. The Hall of Shame is receiving its newest member, the 1963 paperback Blood of my Brother, written by the very talented Stephen Marlowe (real name Milton Lesser). Only, Marlowe didn't want to use his name for this turd. Instead, he used the name C.H. Thames. To rub salt in the wound, Armchair Fiction reprinted this book. 

In the opening chapter, spoiled college kid Johnny Baxter is with an unknown person cracking a safe in a mansion. Next chapter, Johnny is found floating in the ocean. Dead. His car went off of an embankment and crashed into the lake. Johnny's father is devastated and regrets some of his fatherly decisions in life. Johnny's step-brother Dave is a modest attorney in town and the star of the family. He goes to identify the body and believes his brother was murdered. 

Dave believes there is foul play because Johnny's car is turned the wrong way in the lake. That's it, that is the big piece of evidence. Pay no mind to the flask, the fact that his brother was an alcoholic, the reckless lifestyle, the fast Jaguar. Just the wrong direction in the lake. The next 129 exhausting pages consist of Dave interviewing the college faculty, Johnny's roommate, the fraternity brothers, and Johnny's father. Readers already know that Johnny was stealing money from his father, so that little little morsel is quickly chewed up and dismissed. Second, if Dave can't figure out that Johnny's roommate, Tony, is the killer, then there is no reason for him to be an attorney. Here's some clues:

1 – Tony is flatass broke. 
2 – Tony has clothes and jewelry belonging to Johnny.
3 – Tony has a freakin' gun under his bed.
4 – Tony won several medals for killing a ton of bad guys in the Korean War.
5 – Tony tells lies.
6 – Tony seems jealou....nevermind, you get the idea. TONY IS THE DAMN KILLER! 

But, Dave interviews hundreds of people and discovers that Johnny has cleverly blackmailed every one of them. He's taken photos of them doing the humpty-hump, caught them in elaborate forgeries, threatened to report cheating to the faculty, and on and on. It's ridiculous to think Johnny Baxter has this many blackmailing schemes in the works and that this little California college is hosting this many blackmailing schemes. These people aren't that interesting. But, none of it matters! Pages 12 through 141 serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever. You can read the first 12 pages and the last 9 and that's the book. Open, shut, the end. A pointless endeavor. My suspicion is that Marlowe knew this book sucked. That's why he didn't want his name associated with it. I also think that he gave his readers a secret code so they would stay away from this novel - the title. The acronym is B.O.M.B. 

It brings me great pleasure to return this book to its little plastic book condom, complete with a piece of sticky scotch tape across the horizontal flap. I have no plans to ever open it again. I'm placing it in our virtual purgatory for bad books. Thus, the Hall of Shame remains open. This book does not. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Chester Drum #01 - The Second Longest Night

Milton Lesser (better known as Stephen Marlowe, 1928-2008) authored over 20 stand-alone novels including a number of respected science-fiction stories. After authoring his first full-length crime-noir novel, 1954's Catch the Brass Ring, Marlowe went on to create his most notable literary work. Beginning with 1955's Fawcett Gold Medal paperback The Second Longest Night, Marlowe launched a 20-book series of hardboiled crime novels starring Washington, DC private-eye Chester Drum. Marlowe's collaboration with Richard Prather created a paperback sensation called Double in Trouble. It was a unique pairing of two bestselling literary characters – Prather's Shell Scott and Marlowe's Drum. My only experience with the character is the series debut.

The Second Longest Night introduces Drum as a 30-year old divorcee working in Washington, D.C. as a private-eye. In the opening pages, readers learn that Drum was married to Deidre Hartswell, the daughter of a U.S. Senator. The two became disenchanted with each other and became divorced shortly after their wedding. Six-months after the divorce, Deidre was found dead in a bathtub. Her death was ruled as a suicide but her father has doubts. He hires Drum to investigate her death and if there was any foul play.

In the book's first-half narrative, Drum connects Deidre to the Communist Party and a lover named Francisco del Rey. After one of Drum's informants is murdered by del Rey, the book's locale changes from snowy Washington DC to the hot, humid jungles of Venezuela. The author takes an odd storytelling angle by pairing Drum with Deidre's twin-sister Lydia and her husband Ralph. Together, the three visit del Rey where Drum begins to connect a lucrative oil contract with the Hartswell family. But just as things seem to wrap up, the action globetrots to a mountain range in Northern California as Drum, Lydia and Ralph ascend the slopes to determine Deidre's mysterious death.

Stepping into the novel, I had just assumed it would be a localized story with Drum's procedural investigation conducted in the urban areas of Washington DC. After researching the series for this review, I discovered that most of the Drum novels are international mysteries featuring espionage and intrigue. In fact, the series' last five installments apparently read more like James Bond than the stereotypical private-eye whodunit. This Drum debut was surprisingly more adventurous that I had anticipated, evidenced by the character's battles in and around a remote river basin. While not physically domineering, Drum's quick responses are some of his best weapons. Drum isn't intentionally written as humorous character, but the character's lashing, verbal responses are sarcastic and border on being patronizing. As a fan of Robert Parker's Spencer, I found this character trait appealing.

The Second Longest Night isn't the perfect hardboiled crime novel, but it definitely showcased Marlowe's skill-set as a successful storyteller. I imagine like many authors, the quantity eventually led to quality. I'd be mildly curious to read mid-series entries like Violence is my Business (1958) or Peril is my Pay (1960) to judge how well the series developed. With international espionage, communist plots and crooked politicians, I'm not in a huge rush to read more of Chester Drum's exploits. I much prefer small-town crime-noir, domestic disputes or more urban, localized private-eye novels. I'll continue pursuing Frank Kane's Johnny Liddell, Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer and Dan Marlowe's Johnny Killain novels before devoting more time to Stephen Marlowe.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Catch the Brass Ring

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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE