RARA-AVIS: RIP Stephen Marlowe

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 12 Apr 2008

Just read in the latest PWA newsletter that Stephen Marlowe, author of one of the best of the '50's-era private eye series, recently passed away.

Born Milton Lesser, Marlowe published science fiction under that name for several years before adaopting the Marlowe pseudonym for his crime fiction. Eventually, as Marlowe became his most popular persona, he eventually adopted it as his legal name.

As Marlowe, he is perhaps best-remembered for his long series featuring DC-based private eye Chet Drum. A faitful follower of what I've called elsewhere "The Marlowe Paradigm," (30-ish, unmarried, male, American, ex-cop, operating a one-man agency, out of a large US city, telling his own stories in the first person), which may have explained the pen name he chose, Stephen Marlowe added one new ingredient to this familiar recipe: world travel.

Each new Marlowe novel found Chet Drum in a different foreign locale. He made a pilgrimage to Mecca, wound up in Rome for the 1960 Olympics, worked with Mounties when a case took him north of the Canadian border, investigated a case that started out in Gorky Park years before Martin Crux Smith ever heard of the place, traded his snap-brim fedora for a pith helmet while searching for a missing person in the Sahara, etc., etc., etc.

Probably the only Drum novel that didn't have at least a partially foreign setting was his cross-over collboration with Richard Prather, DOUBLE IN TROUBLE, in which Drum and Shell Scott found themselves getting in each other's way while they conducted separate investigations into a corrupt labor union.

The Drum series went through two iterations of title patterns. After the first two unpatterned titles, THE SECOND LONGEST NIGHT and MECCA FOR MURDER, each book used a variation on Chandler's "Trouble Is My Business." Hence, PERIL IS MY PAY, JEOPARDY IS MY JOB, MANHUNT IS MY MISSION, DANGER IS MY LINE, etc. In the early '60's, after one unpatterned transition title, FRANCESCA, he adopted a different title pattern, prefacing a reference to the female involved in the case or to the setting, with the phrase DRUM BEAT. Hence DRUM BEAT - BERLIN, DRUM BEAT - ERICA, DRUM BEAT - MADRID, and the last book in the series, DRUM BEAT - MARIANNE.

After dropping the Drum series, Marlowe went on to write hardback "blockbuster" novels, some, like THE SUMMIT and THE CAWTHORN JOURNALS, criminous, and others, like 1492, about the Columbus voyage, not.

An enviable career. He'll be missed.


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