Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday's Forgotten Books, November 26, 2010

I will be gone most of the day so the Summing Up will come tomorrow or late tonight and latecomers added then.

Heath Lowrance is the author of The Bastard Hand, coming soon from New Pulp Press. His short fiction has appeared in ChiZine, Demon Minds, The Nautilus Engine, Necrotic Tissue, and a whole bunch of other places you've never heard of. He lives in the general vicinity of Detroit. Visit his blog at www.psychonoir.blogspot.com for occasional free stories, essays, and pointless rambling about crime fiction, horror stories, movies and more.
The Name of the Game is Death, by Dan J. Marlowe

“Forgotten book” might be the wrong way to describe Dan J. Marlowe’s The Name of the Game is Death. For hard-core fans of brutal, fast-paced noir, the book is anything but forgotten-- it is, in fact, considered a cornerstone of the genre. But despite that, in the fifty years since its first publication it’s been out of print more often than in, and most casual readers of crime fiction have never heard of it. For me, The Name of the Game is Death is one of the essential five or ten books in the world of hardboiled/noir.
The story: a career criminal calling himself Roy Martin (more on his name later) holes up after a botched bank robbery, while his partner sends him monthly allotments of their take. But when the money stops coming, Martin suspects the worst and sets off to find out what happened. The small town he finds turns out to be a cesspool of corruption and hypocrisy that makes even Martin’s twisted morality seem sane and rational by comparison.
In the hands of most writers, this rather simple plot wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy, but Marlowe paints a vivid picture of Martin, not just through his actions but also in a set of chilling flashbacks to Martins’ youth and young manhood, where all the signs of a sociopathic personality begin to emerge. And the steps Martin takes to find out what happened to his partner and to retrieve his money reinforce him as a deeply disturbed man.
Quite simply, he enjoys killing and hurting people; in one memorable scene, he’s unable to become sexually aroused for intercourse, and admits to himself that the only thing that really turns him on is bloodshed-- in a later scene, he brutalizes a woman who attempted to set him up, and he’s able to “perform” without a hitch.
So all in all, Roy Martin is a seriously messed-up sociopath, with barely a redeeming feature-- aside from a fondness for animals. Why do we find ourselves almost rooting for him? Because almost everyone else he encounters is a hollow, lying hypocrite. Martin is the only character who is actually true to himself… much to the horror of everyone else.
The climax to Th e Name of the Game is Death is stunningly violent, very dark, and totally chilling-- not the sort of ending that would cause you to expect a sequel. And yet Marlowe did indeed bring the character back a few years later for a book that was almost-but-not-quite as good as the first, One Endless Hour. In that one we discover that Martin’s name is actually Drake (which is how he’s often referred to when discussing The Name of the Game is Death).
More books about “The Man with Nobody’s Face” would follow, each one a bit softer than the one before, until almost all signs of the near-psychopathic Martin were gone, replaced by a repentant crook who now worked for the government.
But lovers of dark, violent tales will always remember him as the blood-thirsty killer calling himself Roy Martin.


Albert Tucher is the author of five unpublished novels and dozens of published short stories about prostitute Diana Andrews. He'd like to try a stand-alone story, if Diana doesn't kick his ass for him.

THE GREATEST SLUMP OF ALL TIME, David Carkeet

Over the weekend of November 13-14 I attended the Crimebake conference in Dedham, Mass. On Saturday a gentleman about my age joined my breakfast table. I read his nametag and blurted, "Mr. Carkeet. I'm a big fan of The Greatest Slump of All Time."
David Carkeet's comic novel, which came out in 1984, supports my belief that baseball is life, only more so. It's the story of a major league team, each member of which suffers from a secret depression. That would be bad enough, but the team is also on a winning streak, The wrose the players feel, the more they win, and the more they win, the more like worthless frauds they feel. An excerpt says it better than I can:
"Bubba fears someone is going to break into his apartment on a dark night while he is in bed. The intruder will of course steal from him, but he will also abuse him with words. Bubba feels that the man will have every right to do this."
The scene in which the teammates break through their manly silence and share their pain is hilarious, but I won't spoil it here.
David Carkeet also wrote at least two crime novels in which a researcher in linguistics solves the mystery, and he has a new book set in Vermont called From Away. I plan to get hold of it.

Richard Godwin, HUNGER, Knut Hamsum
Richard Godwin writes dark crime fiction, and he lets it slip the net like wash into horror. His work has appeared in many publications, places like A Twist Of Noir and Pulp Metal Magazine, as well as in two anthologies. His story 'Pike N Flytrap' is in this Fall's issue of Needle Magazine. His play ‘The Cure-All’ has been produced on the London stage. All his stories and poetry can be found at his blog here http://www.richardgodwin.net/ His first crime novel ‘Apostle Rising’ is about to be published and will be released for sale onto the market on March 10th 2011. Use the link to watch a video ad of it.

KNUT HAMSUN’S HUNGER. I remember talking about ‘Hunger’ by Knut Hamsun many years ago with a friend in a smoke filled London pub. It’s a great novel. You can stick whatever label you want on it, it fits existentialism, post modernism, noir, surrealism and the point is it’s a story that is totally compelling. Labels are for soup tins.

Pan published it in the UK, among a treasure trove of great authors when writing still made sense in Britain. It yawned into a golden gap filled with brilliant old and new novelists before the door was shut by some politically correct agenda. Hamsun, a Norwegian novelist, August 4th, 1859 – February 19, 1952, won the Nobel Prize for literature. He stepped over the edge and kept on walking. He is iconoclastic, irreverent, and utterly inspired by whatever dark gods trespass on our soul in the midnight hour.

The protagonist of ‘Hunger’, which is told in the first person, is an unnamed vagrant with intellectual le
anings. It is the intense story of a starving writer living in Christiana. We’re in the great Scandinavian tradition of relentless exposure It was written after Hamsun made an ill-fated tour of America, and based on his own impoverished life before his breakthrough in 1890. It takes place in the late nineteenth century and narrates the delusionary existence of a starving young man on the dark side of a modern metropolis. It has tones of Dostoyevsky and Kafka, Genet and Zola.

The protagonist tries to maintain a veneer of respectability while he decays. He refuses to pursue a professional career,
seeing it as unfit for his abilities and descends into starvation. I remember reading the opening lines: ‘’It was during the time I wandered about and starved in Christiania: Christiania, this singular city, from which no man departs without carrying away the traces of his sojourn the re.’’ Hamsun’s themes are alienation and the inescapability of the physical condition. As the protagonist’s hunger intensifies his hallucinations become more intense. ‘’I raise myself up in bed and fling out my arms. My nervous condition has got the upper hand of me, and nothing availed, no matter how much I tried to work against it. There I sat, a prey to the most singular fantasies, listening to myself crooning lullabies, sweating with the exertion of striving to hush myself to rest. I peered into the gloom, and I never in all the days of my life felt such darkness.

There was no doubt that I found myself here, in face of a peculiar kind of darkness; a desperate element to which no one had hitherto paid attention. The most ludicrous thoughts busied me, and everything made me afraid. A little hole in the wall at the head of my bed occupies me greatly--a nail hole. I find the marks in the wall--I feel it, blow into it, and try to guess its depth. That was no innocent hole--not at all. It was a downright intricate and mysterious hole, which I must guard against! Possessed by the thought of this hole, entirely beside myself with curiosity and fear, I get out of bed and seize hold of my penknife in order to gauge its depth, and convince myself that it does not reach right into the next wall.’’ This really does deserv
ed to be read.

You won’t forget it once you have read it.

Jerry House lives in southern Maryland. He can be reached at house_jerry@hotmail.com.
TARZAN OF THE MOVIES by Gabe Essoe

With the death of Johnny Sheffield last month, I got to thinking about Tarzan movies. Five-year old Sheffield had been handpicked by Johnny Weismuller to play Boy in TARZAN FINDS A SON. Weismuller had looked on Sheffield as the son he couldn't have during his tempetuous marriage to Lupe Velez. (Weismuller's first marriage to Bobbe Arnst ended at the request of MGM Studios, which paid Bobbe $10,000 for the divorce, because the studio felt marriage would be a hindrance to Weismuller's career; his later romancing of Velez was approved by the studio as good publicity.)

This is just one tidbit from Gabe Essoe's TARZAN OF THE MOVIES: A PICTORIAL HISTORY OF MORE THAN FIFTY YEARS OF EDGAR RICE BURROUGH'S LEGENDARY HERO (Cadillac Publishing, 1968), a chatty walk down memory lane from Elmo Lincoln to Mike Henry, with a side jaunt to the Ron Ely television series and a few unauthorized foreign films (such as Singapore's THE ADVENTURES OF CHINESE TARZAN, 1940). Some of the other interesting items:

- When a drugged lion turned on him during the filming of TARZAN OF THE APES, Elmo Lincoln stabbed and killed the lion.

- Boris Karloff's first screen appearance was as a Waziri chief in TARZAN AND THE GOLDEN LION, the last true silent Tarzan movie, which also featured Burroughs' future son-in-law Jim Pierce as Tarzan. That movie, by the way, was financed by Joseph P. Kennedy, the father of John F. Kennedy. The book has a great photograph of Karloff as an angry African warrior.

- The several attempts to kill off (or ignore) Jane as a character.

- The deaths of an actor, a trainer, and a stuntman during the filming the series.

- Among the actors rejected for the role of Tarzan was Clark Gable. (Because, "He has no body.")

- How Weismuller made a friend of the movie Cheetah by hitting him hard on the head with his hunting knife to show him who was boss,.

- The original Tarzan yell was created by using four different synchronized sound tracks: a camel's bleat, a hyena's howl, the growl of a dog, and the plunking of a violin's G-string. Weismuller and Lex Barker were able to recreate the yell; Ron Ely wasn't.

The book portrays Burroughs as a sometimes canny/sometimes naive businessman whose protective nature for his creation was paramount. His disdain for many of the portrayals of his character is evident, as we follow the complicated business dealings that allowed "duelling" Tarzans from different studios. All too often the producing studios' visions led to the degradation of the series to strictly juvenile fare.

TARZAN OF THE MOVIES also contains hundreds of photographs (all, alas, in black and white), including those of television guest stars Diana Ross and Mary Wilson, Ethel Merman, Fernando Lamas, and Julie Harris.

Bottom line: a casual and entertaining overview and a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

Paul Bishop
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Mike Dennis
Martin Edwards
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
K.A. Laity
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/Geoff Bradley
Todd Mason
Juri Nummelin
James Reasoner
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
James Thompson
Kevin Tipple

15 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - As always, this is one of my favourite features on your blog!!

Anonymous said...

Let me second Heath's high praise for THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH. It is truly a must-read along the lines of THE KILLER INSIDE ME, among others. The later books in the "Earl Drake" series are not the same but the first two are amazing.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

On the Hamsun, if you didn't know Christiana = Oslo.

Just FYI.

Jeff

Anonymous said...

Of the others (so far) I'm a big fan of Jill McGown's Lloyd and Hill series and was sorry to read about her death a couple of years ago.

Jeff M.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

My entry this week is "Hardboiled" an anthology edited by Michael Bracken. Now up on my blog http://kevintipplescorner.blogspot.com/

Kevin
http://kevinrtipple.com/

John McFetridge said...

I loved The Greatest Slump of All Time, the chaarcters were so good.

Thanks for the info about Mr. Carkeet's new novel set in Vermont, I'm going to get a hold of it, too.

Paul D. Brazill said...

The only one that I've heard of is 'Hunger'. A good selection, though.

Evan Lewis said...

Yikes. I have still not read a Dan Marlowe book.

Baseball is a great source of humor, as in Ball Four or "Major League."

Read Hamsun's Growth of the Soil in college, perhaps the most mind-numbing experience of my life.

I have an earlier edition of that Tarzan book. Fascinating stuff.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Love Ball Four. My son went through multiple copies. Marlowe book patiently waits for me.
I read one by Carkeet but which one?

Anonymous said...

The Carkeet I read was his first, I believe: DOUBLE NEGATIVE.

But clearly I am going to have to read the baseball book.

Surprisingly, one of the best non fiction baseball books I've read (and I've read a lot) is NICE GUYS FINISH LAST by Leo Durocher (and Ed Linn).

But then there are these:

Roger Kahn, THE BOYS OF SUMMER
Roger Angell, THE SUMMER GAME
David Halberstam, SUMMER OF '49
Doris Kearns Goodwin, WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR
Lawrence S. Ritter, THE GLORY OF THEIR TIMES (among others)

Jeff M.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Read all of them, Jeff. After a while though I got tired of Angell always favoring certain teams so much in his books: Boston, NY, LA, Chicago--never Detroit.
I think it was DOUBLE NEGATIVE.

K. A. Laity said...

Belatedly, I got an <a href="http://katewombat.blogspot.com>FFB</a> written up. I went through a phase of reading lots of Scandinavian novels when I was in college I think or else after I moved to California, but I have no idea if I've still got that cache of Hamsun books in storage. Lagerkvist, too.

K. A. Laity said...

Oops -- guess I left off a quotation mark there.

TNJ said...

Sounds like some great reads. *sigh*

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Buster Crabbe, who played Tarzan, claimed the yell was from three sources: an opera singer, a hog caller, and I forget the third.