Dan Marlowe, his real name, debuted strong out of the gate in 1959 with Doorway to Death, the first of a successful hardboiled series featuring Hotel Detective Johnny Killian. Operating from the Hotel Duarte, “Johnny had the keys to all the doors—to lust, love, greed…and murder!” After Killian cooled, Marlowe-D left Avon Publications for Gold Medal where he did several standalone titles before creating the character that would see his career through: Drake. Drake titles all begin with the word “Operation…” as in “Operation Hammerlock” and “Operation Deathmaker,” "Operation Overkill" and “Operation Hotline Bling”.
Philip Marlowe gets all the glory and deserves no introduction. Is Philip Marlowe the most American-sounding name Raymond Chandler could have invented for what was meant to be his gruff-talking, grizzled West Coast Man’s Man? Nosirreebob, it isn’t! The implausabilities don’t stop there. Slight spoiler alert, but the murder that begins this murder mystery never gets solved. Chandler was having so much drunken fun writing the book he forgot to make it make sense. Of course, none of this matters, because Chandler’s fun remains palpable on the page: reading that book is always a good time. There’s no back-cover blurb from which to quote on this copy and since, in a previous post, I’ve talked about Dorothy Malone in the film version of The Big Sleep, here a bit of that scene from the novel. Marlowe, the detective, has just entered the bookstore which is a smut store and:
“She approached me with enough sex appeal to stampede a business men’s lunch and tilted her head to finger a stray, but not very stray, tendril of softly glowing hair. Her smile was tentative but could be persuaded to be nice.
‘Was it something?’ she enquired.”
Stephen Marlowe was more prolific than either Dan or Raymond Chandler, and he liked to dabble around the genres. Born Milton Lesser in Brooklyn, Marlowe-S broke through with the private eye Chester Drum, also for Gold Medal. Drum beat Drake no contest in the public imaginary. Gold Medal published twenty Chester Drum novels. Marlowe is the name his Wikipedia entry is listed under, mostly on account of the success of Chet D., but Marlowe/Lester also published sci-fi, suspense, and historical biographies under a whole houseful of names: Andrew Chase, Andrew Frazer, Jason Ridgway, C. H. Thames. I don’t know where any of those names came from but I do know where he took Marlowe from—the obvious source. Stephen Marlowe doesn’t exactly imitate Chandler, but he does like to write like him. For instance, Model for Murder, the novel, begins,
“First I opened the door. Then I shut it. Then I opened it again. The bellhop scratched half-heartedly at a pimple the stiff collar of his uniform had irritated, and stared at me. I stared back and shut the door in his face and opened it.”
If you’re going to steal, steal from the best. Model for Murder was published in 1955, the same year Marlowe-S, introduced Chester Drum to the world. I prefer to read the standalone novels than the series; but the money in the mid 1950s was all in creating a character you could run with, quickly and efficiently. Marlowe-S seems to steal the name Marlowe to signal his literary intentions despite the pace with which he’s churning these things out: Marlowe-S isn’t offering cheap thrills only, he’s still trying to write each book as a minor work of art.