Friday 16 November 2012

Operation Drumfire (Earl Drake #6) by Dan J. Marlowe (Gold Lion Hardback, 1973), Plus More Marlowe Lions

NB: Featured as one of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

With that tedious custom domain name change update out the way, let's pick up the threads of the last-post-but-one, on the 1973 Gold Lion hardback edition of Richard Stark's Parker novel The Sour Lemon Score, which, you might recall, I acquired from book dealer to the stars (ahem) Jamie Sturgeon. Because as I mentioned in that post, that's not the only Gold Lion hardback I've bought off Jamie this year; I've taken two others off his hands besides, one of which looks like this:

A British hardback edition of Dan J. Marlowe's Operation Drumfire, published by Gold Lion in 1973, published that same year in paperback in the UK by Coronet, and originally published in paperback in the US by Fawcett/Gold Medal in 1972. I wrote about Marlowe earlier this year, in a series of posts on his 1960s/70s twelve-book crime-cum-spy series starring violent criminal-turned-secret agent Earl Drake (those posts also available on The Violent World of Parker), of which Operation Drumfire marks the halfway point. I haven't yet read this far in the series, but unlike other critics and commentators, who single out the, admittedly brilliant, opening one-two crime fiction punch that is The Name of the Game is Death and One Endless Hour, I actually rather like the ensuing espionage-leaning Drake adventures – those that I've tried, anyway. And I'm not alone: the excellent Spy Guys and Gals site has a lot of time for them as well.

All twelve of the Drake novels were published straight to paperback by Fawcett/Gold Medal in the States, and almost all of them were given the same treatment in the UK by Coronet. But Gold Lion also got in on the act in the UK, publishing the first six Drake adventures (out of sequence) in hardback across 1973, initially under illustrated wrappers, then under photographic ones. It was the only time the books ever appeared in hardcover, and consequently they've become rather scarce: as I write, AbeBooks has just five listed, four of those being Operation Breakthrough, the other being an ex-library copy of The Name of the Game is Death, which, despite being the first book in the series, was the last Drake that Gold Lion issued. I'd never even seen a copy of Operation Drumfire before I came across it whilst rifling through Jamie's boxes at his house, so I was dead pleased to find it – and it brings my Marlowe/Gold Lion collection up to four books.

I've no idea who the dust jacket illustrator of the Gold Lion edition of Operation Drumfire is, but it's not outside the realms of possibility that it's the same chap who illustrated the wrapper of The Sour Lemon Score and indeed Operation Breakthrough (see above), an individual whom Gold Lion appear to have kept fairly busy, at least in the first half of 1973 (their jackets as a whole becoming more photographic in nature in the back half of the year). The modus operandi of Gold Lion, who were only in business for, I think, three or four years, seems to have been reissuing American paperback originals in hardcover; their initial offerings, in 1972, were westerns, and Operation Drumfire was among the very first batch of crime fiction/thrillers they published, in March of 1973 (handily, Gold Lion books sport the month of publication on their dust jacket front flap). The other two books in that first batch can be seen on the back cover of Operation Drumfire:

Sadly, I don't yet own a copy of The Green Eagle Score (well, not the Gold Lion one, anyway; obviously I own one or two other editions of that particular novel)... but I do, thanks to Jamie Sturgeon, own the other spotlighted Gold Lion book, Edward S. Aarons's Assignment Black Viking, which I'll be turning to next, beginning a short series of posts on Aarons and his best-known creation...


  1. Nice score, Nick. Like y'self, I also have a lot of time for the latter Drake books (as I commented on in your previous posts on the Parker site, I think), but having read them all I do think the series flags badly in the middle.

    The 3rd and 4th books (Flashpoint & Fireball) are pretty good, but by the time of Op. Breakthrough, Op. Drumfire, and Op. Checkmate, Drake is almost a supporting actor in his own series. The espionage elements and the extremely dull Erikson character are brought to the foreground a lot more and the books really suffer for it, IMO.

    Fortunately, Marlowe disposed of Erikson's services (and the espionage elements) shortly thereafter and the last 4 or 5 books are good solid thrillers with Drake back in (mostly) badass mode.

  2. Sooo... basically you're telling me that the book I was so excited to find isn't very good. Well thanks, Jason. Thanks a bunch. *sits in corner and sulks*

  3. Yeah, sorry 'bout that - maybe I should have kept my mouth shut in hindsight. But, hey, don't take my word for it - I did put a IMO in there, after all. You've bought the book now, so at least give it a go, eh? You never know...

  4. Ha, nah, never keep your mouth shut on EE, Jason. I welcome all informed opinion. And ill-informed as well, for that matter (and if my posts are anything to go by). Any others of my highly prized books you want to trash...?

  5. I wouldn't dare. But on the plus side, your post did remind me to check whether that long-awaited Dan Marlowe biography from Charles Kelly has been published yet. Discovered it's now out and snapped up the Kindle version on Amazon. Result! Looking forward to reading that.

  6. Ah, yes, Dave Plante told me that in an email; I was going to plug the biog in this post but, er, forgot, so thank you for bringing it up! Dave reckons it's very good.

  7. I like this cover a lot, even though it makes Drake look like Jean Paul Belmondo, which is so not the image I get of him, before or after his plastic surgery. In the first book, he's pretty obviously modeled after Humphrey Bogart.

    I've read the first three Drakes now, and I think that'll be it for me. The Name of the Game is Death--which I actually have a hard time thinking of as a Drake novel, much as it leads into the next one--is a small masterpiece, though it still doesn't measure up to the best of Richard Stark--well, it's better than the worst. Not many can say that much.

    It's a unique story, convincingly detailed, and there's a German Shepherd in it, and I can't help liking the guy, even though he talks WAY too much about himself, and seems much too concerned with justifying everything he does. "I had a rough childhood." Hey man, who didn't? But yeah, I'd want to beat the crap out of anybody who killed my cat, and I'm not even a cat person. He's easy to identify with, and unlike Parker, he actively seeks our empathy (while denying his to others).

    The second book isn't quite as strong, but still grabs you from the very first paragraph and never lets go.

    And then comes Operation Fireball, and it all goes to hell for me (not necessarily everyone else).

    Point is, this idiosyncratic character gets more and more pointless as the series goes on. He's lost everything that made him special. Hazel is a fantastic supporting character, but after the first book, she turns into way too much of an idealized figure (and what a figure!) The relationships don't seem real anymore, the jobs seem perfunctory, the theme of Drake against the world is gone. He is too much of an independent to be credible as a government agent.

    But I'm still very grateful to have made his acquaintance, as I would not have done without your kind assistance. I even managed to get a first (UK) edition of the Gold Medal paperback of The Name of the Game is Death (just couldn't settle for any less). Amazon Marketplace thanks you for my money. ;)

  8. Well, Jason reckons the last four or five books are worth the effort, Chris, and I actually preferred Fireball to One Endless Hour, but different strokes and all that. Nice score on The Name of the Game is Death, though. I take it that's a Ferderick Muller printing? I've not seen one of those on this side of the pond.

  9. I'd have to look--I just wanted the original Gold Medal cover, with the guy getting shot in the phone booth, and U.S. editions were too pricey. Got a nice bargain for the UK printing, which is identical.

    I wouldn't rule out reading more Drakes, but it's not high on my list. I've got plenty of Westlakes yet to get through--just finished "Kahawa" a few weeks back, and I'm forging on ahead in the canon (and wondering just how much of the very best novels are left, seeing as I've already read "The Ax"). I'm saving the remaining Dortmunders for last.

    I'd probably be more interested in reading Westlake's softcore books than in the rest of Drake. But I think I'll move on to Peter Rabe, actually. Your piece on him really intrigued me, as did "Stop This Man!", though I figure there's better books waiting.

    Marlowe seems to have been a really interesting guy, and he earned himself a small but solid place of honor in the genre, but I think he had some distinct limitations as a writer. I couldn't help but notice how much TNOTGID (heh) owes to Thompson's "The Killer Inside Me", only it basically wants to whitewash its sociopathic protagonist, justify everything he does, keep him from doing anything too awful, just so we can go on having fun inside his skin. Thompson's work, like Westlake's, is more honest, more advanced--he's quite happy to let us get into his killer's skin, then make that skin crawl. I tend to agree with you that he wasn't simply forced by economics to retool Drake as a spy--it's a logical procession, in a sense--now every violent murderous thing Drake does is kosher, since he's doing it for Uncle Sam. Hey, that's not just in books, man.

    What sets Parker apart from Drake (and all the other criminal protagonists of this genre) is that he doesn't give a damn what we or anybody else thinks of him. Drake is identifiably human, albeit very very messed up. But he seems to enjoy that. Me, I'd rather enjoy Hazel. ;)

  10. The Name of the Game is Death definitely owes a lot to The Killer Inside Me, but then the same could be said of many writers and Jim Thompson, Westlake included. Without Thompson's trailblazing, none of those guys would have dared to attempt the books they did. I do think that Game is a better written book than Killer though; not as powerful, nor as original, but still a forceful, brilliantly structured tale.

    I've had another series of posts on Peter Rabe planned for some time now (there are already a fair few posts on EE), on what Westlake made of Rabe's canon, drawing on Westlake's essay on Rabe and the Rabe books I've scored over the past year (there are rather a lot). It'll probably have to wait till next year at this rate though!

  11. Game is arguably better structured--its protagonist leads a more carefully planned existence than Lou Ford, since he seemingly has total control over himself (except sometimes over his erectile function), but I'd pick powerful and original any old day.

    I can see Rabe's influence on Westlake (that Westlake fully admitted) just from the one novel I've read, but it still seems like Rabe's tough guys are just human beings with problems. Not hard to understand.

    Looking forward to learning more--from the books and your upcoming articles.

  12. Hey there, I found you through Book Blogs and thought I'd stop by and say hello! I just did an author interview/giveaway if you'd like to check it out and/or enter. I hope you have a wonderful weekend! :)

    Leigh Ann
    MaMa's Book Corner

  13. (devoutly ignoring board spam)

    Home again, and yes, my vintage copy of "The Name of the Game is Death", with the original 1962 Gold Medal cover, was printed at the Philips Park Press, Manchester, and published in the UK by Frederick Muller Ltd in 1963, by arrangement with Fawcett Publications, Inc.

    However, it still says it's a Gold Medal Book on the cover, and the British publisher's name appears nowhere on the front or back of the book--only inside. On the top right of the front cover, there's a white square with '2/6' inside of it. I don't know what that signifies.

    It was a LOT cheaper than the original U.S. editions, but all I cared about was that it be physically (and textually) identical to the original, and give me that oh-so-satisfactory sense of going back those halcyon days when men were men, books were books, and paperback covers were lurid without being tasteless. A tough balancing act to pull off, but Gold Medal managed it more often than not. ;)

  14. Mm, I debated whether or not to approve the comment preceding yours, Chris – it's a bit fucking barefaced. But then I've done my fair share of self-promotion on other people's blogs, so whatever. Mind you, I usually only plug posts related to that person's; this one doesn't even mention Existential Ennui (which, I like to think, is a cut above the standard publicity mill-enslaved books blog); she could've at least feigned some interest.

    Anyway, your score: the "2/6" is the book's price in pre-decimal money. Muller published loads of Gold Medals in the UK, changing only the cover price and the copyright info. I have a fair few myself, and being a Brit, sort of prefer them to the US printings. I certainly covet your copy of The Name of the Game is Death, especially as that printing is presumably the same version as Gold Medal's, i.e. the earlier draft of the novel:

  15. It definitely is the same--found a web page that compares the first edition text with the later rewritten one.

    I understand that people who design and illustrate paperback covers need to make a living, but I wish to hell they could just reprint the classic Gold Medal paperbacks, exactly the way they were, covers and all. Of course, that would create a new problem for collectors of the old ones. Same deal for many science fiction paperback covers--the new can't compare to the old. Something's been lost, and while my ignorance in this area cannot be overstated, I have a strong feeling the culprit is computerization.

  16. Look at the face of the man on the phone on the cover of OPERATION DRUMFIRE. If you ignore the hair, it's pretty obviously based on a photo of Sean Connery. I've got the original somewhere in one of those huge coffee-table like books of James Bond. I would guess it's from DR NO or FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. It's a fairly often reprinted photo.

  17. Hi, Nick. Thanks for the mention of my biography of Marlowe. And thanks for providing more information on Marlowe books being published as hardbacks in England. I scanted this issue in the bio. (While I was writing it, I wasn't clear about which books had been published in hardback. I have One Endless Hour in hardback, but none of the others.) When I revise the bio, I'll include your excellent detail on this, with proper attribution. While the issue of the quality of the "Operation" series will always be in dispute, I was fascinated by it since I was able to place the stories against the background of Marlowe's life when he was writing them. Strictly from a quality standpoint, I particularly like Flashpoint and Operation Deathmaker, the latter a very late entry in the series. Since you have expressed an admirably open-minded approach to self-promotion, let me just say that the bio, called Gunshots in Another Room: The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe, is available as a trade paperback on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and as an ebook on those sites as well as Kobo and iBooks. Thanks again for the mention.

  18. Sextonblake, I agree the face on the left of the page looks like a skinny Connery with fluffy hair, but the guy on the right holding a gun is clearly modeled after Jean Paul Belmondo--who you might argue was the French Sean Connery, if you can imagine such a thing.

    Not the first time I've seen a book cover illustrator play casting director.

  19. Oh, it's definitely Belmondo, and I think that I've seen that photo as well. I suspect that the woman in the background was probably in Equity as well! One of my favourite pieces of photo swiping by a cover artist was on a 70s John Creasey book, where one of the first publicity shots of Doctor Who companion Elisabeth Sladen cowering from some monster was reproduced. The artist hadn't even bothered to disguise the fact, reproducing every aspect of her features and every wrinkle on her trouser suit. Did it never occur to them that people might notice?

  20. Longtime Drake and Marlowe fan. There's an excellent bio of Dan J. Marlowe called Gunshots in Another Room by Charles Kelly out. Trent over at VWOP suggested I write a guest post on it and I obliged. Should be hitting the site in a couple weeks.

    I actually like the espionage books, although I totally agree with most in that I'd rather have had Drake stay a serial heister. Many of you who know me from VWOP know I am a huge fan of what I like to call Criminal Procedurals.

    I feel if Marlowe had continued with his original direction the Drake series would have been comparable to the Parker series. It would have been cool to have seen Parker and Drake team-up for a score. Such team-ups did occur, I remember Prather's Shell Scott and Stephen Marlowe's (no relation to Dan J.)Chet Drum both appeared in a PB original.

  21. Another thing that bothers me about most Drake covers--are illustrators required to read the darn book they're painting the cover of?

    Drake's face is odd-looking, having been recontructed during plastic surgery to fix the horrendous shape it was left in after having been severely burned.

    I actually have a friend who severley burned his face when he was a child from playing with a bic lighter. After extensive and multiple surgeries, his face is still badly disfigured.

    Drake often uses make-up and hairpieces to make himself appear more "normal-looking". Why don't the covers reflect that? In most he looks movie-star handsome, which even before being burned I don't remember him being described as.


  22. Chris and Sexton: it's always been commonplace for cover artists to use photo reference, but I have to agree – to put both Connery and Belmondo in the same picture is asking for trouble! Mind you, there was, of course, no internet back then, so it probably wasn't quite so easy to spot cribbing as it is now.

    Charles: happy to host your promotion, and glad I could offer some additional publishing info! As he mentions above, looks like Dave Plante will be reviewing it pretty soon for VWoP. look forward to reading more about it.