Friday 10 February 2012

Dan J. Marlowe and Earl Drake, 5: Collecting the Man with Nobody's Face, inc. Bibliography

(NB: A version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.)

For Part 1, go here; for Part 2, here; for Part 3, here; and for Part 4, go here.

Dan J. Marlowe's final Earl Drake espionage adventure, Operation Counterpunch, appeared in 1976, by which point the series numbered twelve volumes, including the initial two hard-boiled crime works, The Name of the Game is Death (1962) and One Endless Hour (1969). In the States all of the novels had been published as paperback originals by Fawcett Gold Medal, which meant that in the UK, Hodder Fawcett/Coronet had acquired the rights (much as Coronet had begun publishing Richard Stark's Parker novels once Fawcett in the US picked up the rights as of 1967's The Rare Coin Score). But as it happened, Coronet wasn't the only publisher to issue the Earl Drake novels in Britain in the early '70s...

In 1973, British publisher Gold Lion (no relation to Gold Medal... I don't think) issued the initial six Earl Drake novels over successive month... all of them in hardback with dustjackets – the only time any of Marlowe's novels have appeared in that format. Evidently Gold Lion – a publisher which would only exist for a couple of years – were on something of an American crime thriller acquisition spree at that juncture, because in the same year they also published three Parker novels as hardbacks – see this post from last year. Like those three Parkers, the dustjacket designs on the Drakes were variously illustrative and photographic – perhaps the most striking being the photo covers of The Name of the Game is Death (the interior of which is the revised 1973 Gold Medal text) and Operation Fireball – and also like those Parkers, all of the Drake hardbacks have since become incredibly scarce. To give you an indication, at present AbeBooks has just four Drake Gold Lions listed, three of those being copies of the same book, Operation Breakthrough.

Over in the States all twelve of the Fawcett Gold Medal paperbacks – two of which, Operations Fireball and Flashpoint, boast Robert McGinnis cover art (the latter of those, in its 1972 retitled edition, I nabbed at November's London Paperback & Pulp Bookfair) – can be acquired fairly easily online, although if you're seeking first editions, it can be a bit of a minefield working out which are first printings and which are later printings. One thing to bear in mind especially is which version of the debut Drake, The Name of the Game is Death, you want. As I outlined in the previous post, for hard-boiled crime aficionados, the original 1962 printing is probably preferable (if pricey; a cheaper alternative is the later Black Lizard edition of that version), while for those with more of an interest in the Earl Drake series as a whole, the 1973 revised edition may well suit.

In the UK, only the revised edition was ever published, in hardback by the aforementioned Gold Lion in 1973 under the novel's original title, and in paperback by Coronet that same year under the new title Operation Overkill, although retaining the interior running head The Name of the Game is Death:

Coronet issued all of the Drake novels – bar the final one, which to my knowledge they never published – from 1972 to 1977, although not always in the correct order (I believe they actually began with the sixth one, Operation Drumfire). They did, however, add the appellation "Operation" to all of the titles, even One Endless Hour, which became Operation Endless Hour. The covers of the Coronet editions are all variations on the same theme, a curious mixture of photography and illustration, with a photo of leggy model – the same model on each cover, I believe – collaged into line-and-wash artwork, all set against a white background. I rather like them.

Most of the Coronet editions are in relatively plentiful supply online, apart from the first two, Operation Overkill and Operation Endless Hour, which are becoming uncommon, and the final Drake novel Coronet published, Operation Deathmaker, which is highly uncommon. As for the final Drake novel overall, Operation Counterpunch, the only option there if you want a copy is the US Gold Medal edition.

Mind you, I say the final Drake novel overall: there's a level of disagreement online as to the correct running order of the entire series. Each of the four bibliographies I've been referring to throughout this run of posts – Mystery*File, Thrilling Detective, Fantastic Fiction and Spy Guys & Gals – has the books in a slightly different order. This confusion seems to have arisen because Gold Medal, who originally didn't number the books at all, introduced a numbering system midway through the run, adding numbers to the covers of the earlier volumes as they reprinted them. But then to add to the muddle, it appears as if the publisher numbered some volumes earlier or later than where in the sequence they originally appeared.

For my Earl Drake bibliography I've gone with the Spy Guys & Gals running order, even though the copyright dates given suggest that Spy Guys & Gals used the later Gold Medal numbering. I've done this partly because, broadly speaking, I've found the site to be accurate in matters to do with spy fiction (although I'll happily revise the running order if a compelling case to do so is presented to me), but also because their list handily includes pithy synopses of all of the novels and a fair-minded overview. The Gold Medal pub dates I've chiefly taken from the Mystery*File bibliography (which in turn was adapted from Allen J. Hubin's Crime Fiction IV), while the Gold Lion and Coronet pub dates I researched myself.

(UPDATE: It's since been pointed out by Violent World of Parker reader Jason that the Thrilling Detective running order is the correct one, so I've changed the below bibliography accordingly.)


1. The Name of the Game is Death (US Fawcett Gold Medal PB, 1962; revised edn. 1973 / UK Gold Lion HB, 1973) / Operation Overkill (UK Hodder Fawcett Coronet PB, 1973)

2. One Endless Hour (US Gold Medal PB, 1969 / UK Gold Lion HB, 1973) / Operation Endless Hour (UK Coronet PB, 1975)

3. Operation Fireball (US Gold Medal PB, 1969 / UK Gold Lion HB, 1973 / UK Coronet PB, 1974)

4. Flashpoint (US Gold Medal PB, 1970) / Operation Flashpoint (US Gold Medal PB, 1972 / UK Gold Lion HB, 1973 / UK Coronet PB, 1973)

5. Operation Breakthrough (US Gold Medal PB, 1971 / UK Gold Lion HB, 1973 / UK Coronet PB, 1973)
6. Operation Drumfire (US Gold Medal PB, 1972 / UK Coronet PB, 1972 / UK Gold Lion HB, 1973)

7. Operation Checkmate (US Gold Medal PB, 1972 / UK Coronet PB, 1973)

8. Operation Stranglehold (US Gold Medal PB, 1973 / UK Coronet PB, 1974)

9. Operation Whiplash (US Gold Medal PB, 1973 / UK Coronet PB, 1974)

10. Operation Hammerlock (US Gold Medal PB, 1974 / UK Coronet PB, 1975)

11. Operation Deathmaker (US Gold Medal PB, 1975 / UK Coronet PB, 1977)

12. Operation Counterpunch (US Gold Medal PB, 1976)

Next up on Existential Ennui: the return of Raylan Givens...

Thursday 9 February 2012

Dan J. Marlowe and Earl Drake, 4: the Richard Stark and Parker of Spy Fiction

(NB: This post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.)

For Part 1, go here; for Part 2, go here; for Part 3, go here.
Much as Donald "Richard Stark" Westlake had done in his eighth Parker novel, The Handle (Pocket Books, 1966), with the third Earl Drake thriller, Operation Fireball (1969), Dan J. Marlowe turned his narrator-protagonist from a violent career criminal into a reluctant operative for the US government ("The man with nobody's face", as Drake became known, due to the plastic surgery he'd undergone in his second outing, One Endless Hour). But unlike Parker, for Earl Drake this vocational change was to become effectively permanent, and much of the remainder of his literary career (the twelfth and final Drake novel, Operation Counterpunch, was published in 1976) would be directed by his new "handler", Treasury Agent Karl Erikson.

Whether this switch to spy fiction was at the behest of Marlowe's publisher, Gold Medal, as Josef Hoffman (among other Marlowe commentators) suggests (see the Mystery*File article "Playing with Fire"), or the influence of Marlowe's friend – and by-this-point collaborator – the convicted criminal Al Nussbaum, or indeed simply a literary choice, I'm not in a position to determine for certain. Hoffman reasons in his piece that Gold Medal pushed Marlowe in the direction of the espionage thriller because the publisher was already home to another series starring an unrepentant criminal – the aforementioned Parker, whose initial outing, The Hunter, was published in the same year (1962) as the debut Earl Drake novel, The Name of the Game is Death – and consequently Gold Medal felt the market couldn't support a similar series.

If true, that strikes me as being short-sighted on the publisher's part. After all, reportedly Gold Medal had been eager for a sequel to The Name of the Game is Death, so for them to later insist Marlowe turn the series into an espionage one seems counterintuitive. Furthermore, it's worth noting that from 1969 to 1976 Dan Marlowe would write Earl Drake adventures almost exclusively, forsaking completely the standalone crime works he'd previously penned as well. If the considerations for turning the Earl Drake series into a spy series rather than a crime one were entirely commercial, as Hoffman maintains, why didn't Marlowe write other books besides – books he was more interested in writing?

I wonder how much of this is a selective rewriting of history on the part of modern day aficionados of mid-twentieth century hard-boiled crime fiction. By and large the Drake spy thrillers are dismissed out of hand by fans who – understandably – prize the coruscating hard-boiled crime works of the 1950s and '60s above their corresponding spy confections. But to have lasted seven years and ten books as a spy series (the series as a whole having lasted fourteen years, although there was a considerable gap between The Name of the Game is Death and One Endless Hour), Marlowe's post-One Endless Hour novels must have had something going for them – indeed, the series may only have been curtailed because Marlowe suffered a suspected stroke in 1977. And even if sales alone aren't a marker of quality, then surely the fact that the only one of Marlowe's around fifty novels and novellas (after an eight-year gap he knocked out twenty younger reader novellas from 1983 to his death in 1986) to win an Edgar Allan Poe Award was one of his Earl Drake spy thrillers (Flashpoint, 1970, alias Operation Flashpoint, the fourth book in the series, which won the Best Paperback Original prize).

For me, this prejudice against the Drake spy novels is typified by the attitude towards the debut Drake outing, The Name of the Game is Death (1962). Widely – and justifiably – hailed as Dan J. Marlowe's towering achievement, the novel was later rewritten – presumably by Marlowe himself, although it's claimed at the insistence of Gold Medal – for a 1972 revised edition (published as Operation Overkill in the UK in 1973) – one revision being the insertion of the name "Earl Drake" as one of the narrator's many aliases. The critical consensus these days is that the original is the superior beast, legend having it that the novel was drastically toned down for its '72 reissue, so as to make Drake more palatable now that he was an "heroic" secret agent. In fact that doesn't appear to be the case at all. As this Mystery*File post demonstrates, most of the revisions are editorial in nature – often to the benefit of the text – the exceptions being two subtle alterations to do with Drake's sexuality. Drake is just as vicious and murderous in the revised edition, so to claim that he and the book were "toned down" is disingenuous.

The inference, of course, is that the original work is as Marlowe intended it – "authenticity" being the trait prized above all others nowadays – and that both the later version and by extension the Drake spy works were essentially written for a paycheck. But historically much great art has been created on commission, and Marlowe, like all professional writers, undoubtedly wrote for money as much as anything – and that's probably as true of The Name of the Game is Death as it is of the later Drake novels. Like his contemporaries in the hard-boiled field – Jim Thompson, Westlake, Peter Rabe – Marlowe wrote fast and frequently – the only way to make a living wage from paperback crime fiction. Based on the available evidence, I'm leery of ascribing motives to the choices Marlowe made: who's to say how hard he fought to stop The Name of the Game is Death being rewritten – if indeed he fought at all. Perhaps the revised version is as Marlowe intended, not the original. (If anyone can offer any informed insights here, I'd welcome your thoughts.)

Ultimately, what you make of the Drake spy books rests on which side of the genre fence you find yourself – hard-boiled crime fan or international espionage freak. (Even more ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, it's entirely likely that, other than me and possibly Bill Crider, nobody gives a damn whether the Drake spy novels are better or worse than the Drake crime novels anyway, so this whole post may well have been a complete waste of everyone's time.) Personally, I've plenty of time for both, and I'm not alone: as the indispensable Spy Guys & Gals site points out, there's much to enjoy with the Drake spy novels, Drake's unusual origin as a lawless killer lending them an added frisson. And for book collectors, there's plenty to investigate, too, as we'll discover in the final post in this run...

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Dan J. Marlowe and Earl Drake, 3: Operation Fireball; from Crime Thrillers to Spy Thrillers

(NB: This post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.)

For Part 1, go here; for Part 2, go here.

The same year as the sophomore Earl Drake adventure, One Endless Hour, appeared, the third Drake outing also hit. And it was here that the template for the remainder of the series began to be established...

Published in paperback by Gold Medal in the States in 1969 (and by Coronet in the UK in 1974... although there was actually a British hardback edition published ahead of that; more on that in the final post in this series), Operation Fireball marked something of a departure for both Dan J. Marlowe and Earl Drake. Up to this point, Marlowe had been writing hard-boiled crime fiction – not just the two previous Drake novels, but many other standalone crime works besides (see Josef Hoffman's Mystery*File article "Playing with Fire"). But with Operation Fireball, the author changed direction, pitching his amoral career criminal antihero into what is essentially a spy thriller.

Once again picking up almost directly after the preceding novel – which ended with Drake out of pocket following another heist-gone-wrong and wondering whether he should look up his Amazonian, flame-haired flame from The Name of the Game is Death, Hazel Andrews – Operation Fireball opens with Drake driving towards Ely, Nevada, where Hazel is looking after her father's ranch. No sooner has he arrived and reacquainted himself with Hazel's ample delights, however, than Hazel's dad gets into a spot of bother with the local unruly teens. Being a dab hand with a firearm, Drake elects to settle the matter the old-fashioned way: he shoots them.

Contrary to appearances, this encounter with the teenagers is the first sign of a softening of Drake's character, although in truth it's a matter of degrees: the feral youths wind up with severe gunshot wounds but they do at least escape with their lives. Even so, Drake thinks it best if he lights out, and heads back to San Diego, where he spots a message to one of his aliases on a noticeboard in one of his old haunts, requesting he call a number. The independently wealthy Hazel had offered to support Drake, but since he's not the kind of guy who'd ever be happy as a kept man he follows up the message, and soon he's involved in a scheme to retrieve a cool two million in cash from, of all places, Havana.

Drake's contact is a loose associate named Slater, but the real brains behind the operation is a man Drake doesn't know: Karl Erikson. Tall, statuesque and blond, the mysterious Erikson is compared to a viking more than once – a military type with useful links to his former profession. It's Erikson who manages to smuggle Drake, Slater and a third man, Chico Wilson, onto a US navy vessel and from there to Guantanamo and Cuba – a perilous journey that's one of the best bits of the book – and it's Erikson whose knowledge of Castro's Communist regime (portrayed here in a pitiless manner by an obviously – some might say justly – unsympathetic Marlowe) and whose familiarity with military equipment and skill with a weapon saves the day more than once.

Indeed, though Drake may be reunited with Hazel in Operation Fireball – she provides the financial backing that makes the scheme viable, and even lends a hand operating the radio back in Florida – there's actually another love story at the heart of the novel: that of Drake and Erikson. Drake's narration regarding "the big man" frequently verges on the fawning, while his descriptions of Erikson's confident handling of tense situations at times becomes so gushing that you half expect the orchestra to swell and the two of them to fall into a passionate clinch. In fact, so supremely able is Erikson that Drake is effectively sidelined for much of the action, reduced to the role of ineffectual onlooker while Erikson kicks Commie ass.

That said, Operation Fireball is still a gripping read, certainly pacier than One Endless Hour. And though the plot is more outlandish than those of its two predecessors, as an action/spy thriller it works very well. The incursion into a nightmarish Cuba is fraught with danger, and only a half-baked reveal from Hazel and Erikson at the end of the novel lets the side down. But both of Drake's "love interests" would soon return, as the espionage elements introduced in Operation Fireball increasingly came to characterize the series as a whole – a turn of events that not every fan of Dan J. Marlowe was terribly pleased about...

For Part 4, go here.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Dan J. Marlowe and Earl Drake, 2: One Endless Hour (alias Operation Endless Hour)

(NB: This post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.)

For Part 1, go here.

Seven years after ruthless career criminal (and Parker parallel) Earl Drake made his debut in Dan J. Marlowe's violent, twisted The Name of the Game is Death (Gold Medal, 1962), Drake returned to print in a new full-length novel. Except now things were different for both Marlowe and Drake... and they were about to take a turn for the bizarre...

Dan J. Marlowe had continued to write in the wake of The Name of the Game is Death – indeed, for many, the years 1962–1969 marked the high point of his crime fiction writing career, encompassing standalone classics like Strongarm (1963), Four for the Money (1966) and The Vengeance Man (also 1966); see "Playing with Fire" and "The Gold Medal Corner" by Josef Hoffman and Bill Crider on the Mystery*File site. But Marlowe had also become friends with a real-life convicted criminal: Al Nussbaum. Nussbaum had read The Name of the Game is Death whilst on the run from the FBI following a string of bank robberies with his partner Bobby Wilcoxson, and was duly impressed; he wrote a number of letters to Marlowe (using the alias "Carl Fisher"), and once imprisoned (sentenced to forty years, he was paroled in the early 1970s), Nussbaum kept up his correspondence with Marlowe.

The result was an (unpublished, I believe, due to FBI objections) article titled "Anatomy of a Crime Wave", detailing Nussbaum's exploits. But what Nussbaum – and, it must be said, Marlowe's publisher, Gold Medal – really wanted to read was a sequel to The Name of the Game is Death. According to Josef Hoffman's Mystery*File piece, "Nussbaum suggested to Marlowe that he go through the novel for him, looking out for the elements which constituted the figure of the hero, and for ways in which the story might be continued. Nussbaum then produced an outline of the character for the series, gave him a name, and drew up a 60-page concept for the sequel." The name Nussbaum came up with was Earl Drake. (Presumably this means the couple of mentions of the Earl Drake alias in later editions of The Name of the Game is Death/Operation Overkill must have been inserted as part of the revisions and edits the novel underwent – see previous post.)

Marlowe wrote the sequel "in three weeks flat", and Earl Drake was reborn in One Endless Hour (1969, later retitled Operation Endless Hour). When we left Drake in The Name of the Game is Death, he'd been burned to a crisp in a car-related conflagration after a shootout with the cops and landed up in prison hospital, wrapped head-to-toe in bandages, in terrible pain but utterly unrepentant. Handily, One Endless Hour recaps these final moments (again, slightly rewritten), and then picks up the story with Drake still on the prison ward, beginning to plan a breakout. This first part of the novel is perhaps the best, and plays like a fucked-up One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (as in, Ken Kesey's 1962 novel), with Drake taking the role of Chief Bromden, narrating events while everyone on the ward believes him to be a vegetable

Enlisting the aid of the plastic surgeon who reconstructs his ruined face (shades of Richard Stark's Parker in The Man with the Getaway Face there, although the surgeon is unable to reconstitute Drake's hair; henceforth he has to wear a wig), Drake eventually effects his escape (leaving behind one corpse, naturally) and goes looking for the money he never managed to recover in the first book. The cash is long gone, however – although Drake does get to tie up one loose end – and so, short on funds, Drake seeks out Robert "the Schemer" Frenz, an underworld figure who provides ready-to-go plans for bank jobs "for a fee or a percentage of the gross". The resultant robbery (or rather, robberies) takes up the remainder of the book, providing a fair bit of excitement and climaxing, in a spooky echo of the previous book's finale, in a flaming car crash (Josef Hoffman's Mystery*File article draws attention to the repeated reappearance of fiery motifs in the Earl Drake series).

That One Endless Hour isn't quite the equal of The Name of the Game is Death perhaps won't come as a huge surprise – few books by any crime novelist scale those lofty heights – but it's still an effective crime thriller, and Drake is as compelling – and repulsive – a creation as ever (although not quite as murderous here). In "the Schemer" one can detect Marlowe and Nussbaum trying out a possible series character, setting up potential sequels... but in fact after this point the series would start to diverge from the blueprint it had established, gradually leaving crime fiction behind and veering into a whole other genre...

For Part 3, go here.

Monday 6 February 2012

Dan J. Marlowe and Earl Drake, 1: The Name of the Game is Death (alias Operation Overkill)

(NB: This post also appears – with comments – on The Violent World of Parker blog.)

In 1962, one of America's leading genre publishers issued a paperback original by an author who'd only been a novelist a few years, but already had a handful of successful, critically praised crime works under his belt. Starring a violent career criminal who operates under various aliases and is respected in the underworld for his ability to plan and take down dangerous scores, the book was stunning: gripping, edgy, original. The author had no intention of penning a sequel to the novel – indeed, his leading man almost dies at the end of the story – but after some encouragement from his publisher he elected to extend his memorable antihero's literary life into a series. Armed with a new face following plastic surgery, the cunning and lethal criminal would go on to execute a number of spectacular heists (some of them going spectacularly awry), find himself pitted against mobsters and gangsters, and even wind up working for the US government.

So far, so familiar, at least to fans of Donald E. Westlake's pseudonymous Richard Stark/Parker novels. Except it's not Stark we're talking about here, or Parker, or The Hunter/Point Blank; it's Dan J. Marlowe, Earl Drake... and The Name of the Game is Death.

Published in the States in the same year as The Hunter by Gold Medal – who would eventually pick up the rights to the Parkers after Pocket Books issued the initial eight – The Name of the Game is Death – later retitled Operation Overkill – was Dan James Marlowe's seventh novel (his debut, Doorway to Death, featuring hotel detective Johnny Killain, was issued by Avon in 1959), but the first to star Earl Drake. Drake isn't actually called Drake for the bulk of the novel (and may, in fact, never once be called that in the original printing of the book... I'll return to that shortly) – "Earl Drake" is merely a name he gives to an associate – but after this initial outing the Drake alias would stick.

Written in the first person from Drake's perspective (and here we encounter an essential difference to the third-person Parker series), The Name of the Game is Death begins in the midst of a robbery, as Drake, his partner in crime Bunny, and a young kid doing the driving hit a Phoenix bank. It's a blistering opening to the book: tense, chaotic, and climaxing in a bloody shootout in which the kid is killed ("The left side of his head was gone") and Drake is wounded. Drake and Bunny split up, Bunny taking most of the cash, with the intention of mailing Drake his share at the rate of a thousand dollars per week. But after three packages the deliveries stop, so Drake sets off to Hudson, Florida to find out where his share of the money is and what happened to Bunny.

If the blood-soaked opening of The Name of the Game is Death isn't indication enough, it quickly becomes even more apparent that Drake is a very bad man indeed. A hapless doctor who Drake forces to tend to his injury meets a sticky end, and Drake's trip to Hudson involves another murder and sets up more to come. Interspersed amongst all this are flashbacks to Drake's youth and young adulthood, via which we learn just how fucked up an individual he is: as a child he mercilessly tormented a fat kid who'd killed his cat and exacted a bruising vengeance on a corrupt cop, and by the time he was twenty-three he had already killed two men.

The picture of Drake that emerges isn't a million miles away from, say, Lou Ford in Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me (1952) – and this is the key to The Name of the Game is Death. Much as Ford is the driving force behind The Killer Inside Me, compelling even as he repels, Earl Drake is the reason The Name of the Game is Death is so powerful (I made it my number one read of last year). Dan J. Marlowe isn't much of a stylist, but Drake is so fascinatingly monstrous it's hard not to root for him. And once Drake, now calling himself Chet Arnold, gets to Hudson (setting himself up as a tree surgeon while he investigates Bunny's disappearance), we learn he also has problems getting it up; his first attempt to make it with a buxom redheaded bar-owner named Hazel ends in flaccid disappointment.

Reportedly, the original edition of The Name of the Game is Death implicitly links Drake's eventual sexual success with Hazel to his taste for killing, although this inference is removed from later US and UK editions. And that's not the only change, either; I've only read the 1973 UK Coronet printing of the book (retitled Operation Overkill), but this post on the Mystery*File blog details some of the other alterations. Although the majority of these seem to be simple copy edits (and actually improvements in many cases), it may well be that the name "Earl Drake" was inserted at a later date, too.

As to why Marlowe made these changes to his text... I'll be exploring that over the course of the rest of this week's posts. Because it would be seven years before Chet Arnold/Earl Drake reappeared, by which point Dan J. Marlowe had become friendly with a real-life criminal who would help to shape the remainder of the series... and despite the allusions at the beginning of this post, that series would end up taking quite a different path to that of Richard Stark and Parker...

For Part 2, go here.