Today’s Pulp Friday offering will be familiar to fans of hardboiled crime fiction, the 1972 edition of The Name of the Game Is Death, by Dan J Marlowe, published by Fawcett Gold Medal.
Although Marlowe is not well known today, aficionados acknowledge he had a major impact on the genre. His books are often compared to Jim Thompson and he influenced writers such as Steven King, and no doubt many others.
I first heard of The Name of the Game is Death during an interview I conducted last year with New Jersey-based Wallace Stroby for issue 17 of Crime Factory (that interview is available in full here). I asked Stroby about some of the lesser-known sixties pulp paperback crime writers who had influenced him, and he nominated Marlowe and, in particular, this book.
Originally published in 1962, The Name of the Game Is Death begins with three criminals pulling a bank heist in Phoenix, Arizona. One of the team is killed in the attempted getaway, another flees to Florida with the money, while the third, the narrator, plans to meet up with him later when police attention has died down. When the accomplice breaks contact, the narrator suspects something is up and travels to the small town from which the accomplice last contacted him, to see for himself what has happened.
The book is well written and very, very hard-boiled. The narrator is a cold-blooded sociopath who expresses very little remorse in killing. The story also contains a fair amount of sex, much of it quite kinky, which I have to say was a pleasant surprise as a lot of the white guys writing pulp for Fawcett in the sixties were pretty vanilla.
Unlike The Hunter, the first Parker book written by Donald Westlake under the pen name Richard Stark, it appears Marlowe intended The Name of the Game Is Death to be a series. The main character who is only known by a series of false names in the first book, returned as Earl Drake in One Endless Hour (1962).
Under the influence of Marlowe’s editors, Drake then become an international spy in a series of ‘Operation’ novels (the point at which, according to Stroby, the quality of the books declined markedly), with Drake was billed as ‘The Man With Nobody’s Face’, because his face had been horribly damaged by fire at the end of The Name of the Game Is Death and was reconstructed by plastic surgery in One Endless Hour.
Marlowe himself was an interesting and somewhat mysterious character. He was a Rotarian, gambler, a heavy drinker and, despite not being particularly attractive, a womaniser. He also had a long association with a real life criminal, a bank robber called Al Nussbaum, who Marlowe befriending in prison and who helped the author achieve a certain criminal authenticity in his work.
UK crime publisher Allen Guthrie’s site has a good article on Marlowe. The author of this, Charles Kelly has also written a book on Marlowe’s life, Gunshots in Another Room: The Forgotten Life of Dan G Marlowe, available on line, which is supposed to be very good.