Friday, October 23, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Books, October 23, 2015

(From the archives)

Heath Lowrance
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.

Sergio Angelini, A THREE-PIPE PROBLEM, Julian Symons
Mark Baker, HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, Sir. Arthur Connan Doyle
Yvette Banek, MESSAGE OF THE MUTE DOG, Charlotte Murray Russell
Joe Barone, DEADLY DANCE, M.C. Beaton
Elgin Bleeker, 13  FRENCH STREET. Gil Brewer
Brian Busby, OUR LAST FAREWELL, Pierre Trudeau
Bill Crider, DETECTIVE FICTION, ed. Robin Winks
Scott Cupp,  PS Showcase #3: Mad Scientist Meets Cannibal by Robert T. Jeschonek
Martin Edward, HENBANE, Catherine Meadows
Curt Evans, THE LABOURS OF HERCULES, Agatha Christie; The Return of Harriet Rutland: Knock, Murderer, Knock! (1938), Bleeding Hooks (1940) and Blue Murder (1942) reissued by Dean Street Press
Ed Gorman, BLACK FRIDAY, David Goodis
Rick Horton,  A Forgotten Ace Double: Warlord of Kor, by Terry Carr/The Star Wasps, by Robert Moore Williams
Jerry House, STOWAWAY TO MARS, John Wyndham
Nick Jones, VOTE X FOR TREASON, Brian Cleeve
Margot Kinberg, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, James Cain
B.V. Lawson,  Detective Fiction: Crime and Compromise, Dick Allen and David Chacko
Evan Lewis, THE VAMPYRE, John Polidori
Steve Lewis, VANISHING LADIES, Ed McBain
Todd Mason, ILLITERATURE, Carol Lay
Mathew Paust, A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND, Flannery O'Connor
Reactions to Reading, WINTER'S BONE, Daniel Woodrell
James Reasoner, KINCADE'S LAST RIDE, Marshall Grover
Gerard Saylor, THE SWEET FOREVER, George Pelecanos
Westlake Review, TWO MUCH, Donald Westlake 
Kevin Tipple. MURDER TAKES A BREAK, Bill Crider
TomCat, THE SEA MYSTERY, Freeman Willis Crofts
TracyK, THE OLDE  ENGLISH PEEP SHOW, Peter Dickinson 



Jerry House said...

Sorry for the delay, Patti, but mine's up now -- STOWAWAY TO MARS by John Wyndham.

Todd Mason said...

Up and running--thanks!


Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Fantastic crop today Patti - thanks as always for bringing us closer together

Anonymous said...

Thanks very much, Patti, for this great group of reads - nicely diverse - and for including mine.