Book Review
Sunday, February 24, 2013
One of the Most Hardboiled Writers Ever

"Gunshots in Another Room: The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe" by Charles Kelly(Asclepian Imprints,19.95)

Charles Kelly has struck a few more blows than he knows in his biography, "Gunshots in Another Room: The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe."

The first and most important is the likely renewed interest in a neglected writer. Dan J. Marlowe (1914-1986) was a suspense writer published by Fawcett Gold Medal, his paperbacks selling in the hundreds of thousands of copies in the 1960s and '70s.

His second important accomplishment is to put the lie to the notion that self-published work are always a shoddy and chaotic practice. Anyone looking to see how it should be done has found the standard in "Gunshots in Another Room." From the cover to the typeface and especially the beautifully edited and managed content, this publication rivals the best in the business. Although Kelly painstakingly acknowledges all help, invariably self-publishers can only truly rely on a staff of one.

I read it after finishing a well-published biography of a far more famously dead writer whose author neglected to detail the writer's creative process, an omission I find unforgivable. Which gets me to the heart of what is so compelling about Kelly's book on Dan Marlowe. The author artfully blends his own sleuthing intrigue in following how a thin golden vein of material on Marlowe's life led to a meeting in Marlowe's home town, giving him the mother lode: materials collected by someone who planned but never completed the biography process.

Kelly's delight in his subject is so palpable that we feel his excitement as if we're handling the material ourselves. And it has the aroma of providence. Kelly and Marlowe are perfect for each other.

Letters and other artifacts document the personal and professional side of Marlowe, including close relationships with noted bank robbers, murderers and sociopathic criminals. Some even became writing partners, both public and silent. If happy, settled people make for dull reading then this has it all, dangerous liaisons, financial desperation, sexual fetishism, foreign travel and even a bout with amnesia, an ailment that seems almost quaint nowadays for all its terror.

It's not surprising, then, that Charles Kelly was a finalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel of the Year Contest. His biography unfolds like the best stories; truth that reads as fiction, containing narrative drive, setups and plenty of payoffs along the way, satisfying and literate. With authorial sleight-of-hand, Kelly some-how reveals Marlowe's enigmatic nature, artfully peeling back one trait at a time.

I was particularly intrigued at glimpses of Marlowe's creative process, from labored beginning to polished end product, finally producing "The Name of the Game is Death," a novel that Stephen King so admired that he dedicated one of his books to him, citing Marlowe as a great influence on his own work.

Marlowe, even in his heyday, kept looking for the big break that would "release him from the grind of banging out action-packed thrillers every few months." The grim, financial reality of pounding away on his beloved IBM Selectric is echoed in mid-list writers today. Only the tools have changed.

Somehow Kelly manages to reconcile a character who seems at odds with himself. In fact he succeeds so well that Marlowe comes off as an old-fashioned, civic-minded gentleman despite his known and intimate associations with murderers. Images and stories create a portrait of the times and the man, a tidy, almost formally dressed, middle-aged gentleman writing pornography to make ends meet; a philanderer who carries around a picture of his long-dead wife with him until his own end some 30 years later. A patriotic homebody, yet Marlowe moved to Mexico, in one of many efforts to stretch his slender resources to accommodate a bad booze habit and desire for space and solitude.

Perhaps the greater puzzle about this mystery writer is what took us so long to reacquaint ourselves with him, once the Edgar Award-winning hero of Fawcett Gold Crest.

"Gunshots in Another Room: The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe," succeeds on two levels at least. I want to go out and order Marlowe's "The Name of the Game Is Death" and "Killer With a Key," both considered to be the most hardboiled classics ever of their era.

But before that, I want other work by Charles Kelly, whatever the genre.

-- Reviewed

by Jessica Argyle

"Youth Interrupted" by Karl Lindquist (CreateSpace, $12.99)

"Youth Interrupted" is the true story by a Key West winter resident who, with his wife Carol, (a regular contributor to Solares Hill) also lives today in the Loire Valley of France. Drafted by the Army at age 18 from a New England prep school, Lindquist serves in the infantry as a scout and then as a medic. At 19 he is the youngest, most decorated G.I. in the 2nd Battalion, 104th Infantry Regiment, awarded a Bronze and Silver star. The war in Europe ends on his 20th birthday and he is one of just five remaining members of the original 180 men who landed together in France. "Growing up on Nantucket was heaven," says the author. "Going to war was hell."

-- Recommended

by Mark Howell