Friday, February 15, 2013

Gunshots In Another Room: The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe by Charles Kelly

If Charles Kelly's  intimate portrait of the hardboiled writer, Dan J. Marlowe, Gunshots In Another Room isn't quite on a par with Polito on Thompson, Garnier on Goodis, Sallis on Himes and Freeman on Chandler, it isn't far off. And in a sense, all the more interesting because, unlike the above, Marlowe, to date, isn't as well known, and, for the most part, hasn't been given the credit he deserves.

Like Goodis and Thompson, Marlowe spent years churning out  paperback originals for the likes of Gold Medal. A jobbing writer, his was a world of word-counts, a study of the writing market and  how he might publish and profit from it. Willing to take on anything that presented itself, he published not only crime novels but spy stories, pornography, books for young adults, newspaper columns, reviews, etc..  Anything that enabled him to make a living from his typewriter. In 1968 he claimed to have written 894,000 commercial words, for which he made something in the region of $10,000.

My first exposure to Marlowe's was his classic The Name of the Game Is Death. It's a sleazy crime-on-the-road novel, with a tough-guy protagonist whose sexual identity is never less than ambiguous. A novel that Stephen called "the hardest of the hardboiled." So intrigued was I by Marlowe's novel that I immediately had to dig deeper not only into his writing but into the genre itself, which led to what must have been  my first article on hardboiled fiction, Sleaze y Sleuth, which appeared in Rolling Stock, a periodical edited by Ed and Jenny Dorn back in the mid-1980s.

Until reading Kelly's well-researched book, I knew little about Marlowe. Now, amongst other things, I  know he was a hard drinker and, despite his Archie Bunker appearance, something of a womaniser, with old-school manners and moderate Republican politics. And that he only  turned to writing in his mid-forties, after working at various jobs, making money as a professional gambler and a stint as a minor  politician. Like his protagonist in Name of the Game..., Marlowe moved around the country, settling in Florida, Michigan and, finally, Los Angeles. He claimed his first novel, Doorway to Death, was written with only a character in mind, but without a plot. And even though he was nothing like his protagonists, he did befriend a bank robber, Al Nussbaum, incorporating him into his fiction as well as living with, or near him, for much of his life. Likewise, a substantial portion of the book is devoted to Nussbaum's true crime exploits.

Marlowe, by his own admission, was putting in "more sixteen than eight hour days." Maybe that had something to do with his subsequent amnesia, accompanied by aphasia. The cause was never discovered, though Marlowe would claim they were the result of a stroke. It would take him years to put his life back together, having to relearn how to live and write. Kelly relates all this and more with a sharp and sympathetic eye and a hardboiled style. Informative and well-written, Gunshots In Another Room makes for quite a story.



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