Sunday, June 07, 2009

Out of the past: More on Dan J. Marlowe


As a follow-up of sorts to last week's post about Dan J. Marlowe's 1962 novel THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH:

A couple of years back, I was browsing through the paperback mystery racks in a used book store in south Florida when I came across a rare find - a copy of Marlowe's hard-boiled caper novel FOUR FOR THE MONEY, published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1966 and never reissued. I'd read most of the Marlowes Black Lizard reprinted in the mid-'80s, including TNOTGID, THE VENGEANCE MAN and STRONGARM, but I'd never come across this one before.

I was even more surprised when I turned to the title page and found this:




It reads: "To that sterling character, Bill Bell - fellow worker with words - Dan Marlowe."

Yup, an autographed first edition out-of-print Marlowe Gold Medal, in excellent condition, hiding there in the stacks along with the dog-eared James Pattersons, Rex Stouts and Agatha Christies. I bought it immediately, along with a handful of other books (I think I paid $10 for the lot), and when I got it home - or at least to the motel serving as home - I found the following typewritten note tucked into the pages midway through the book:




I've been back to that store many times since, but no other Marlowes have ever turned up, and 1960s Gold Medals alone - from any writer - are becoming increasingly difficult to find. The note dates the inscription to sometime before November 1966. Had it sat unmolested within those pages for 40 years? And why and how did the book suddenly appear in that store after all that time? (I'd been there previously and never seen it).

These are all mysteries, of course, which will never be solved (Marlowe died in 1986, at age 72). But boy, I'd love to learn the backstory there. As it is, the book feels like a strange time capsule from a long-gone era. If anyone out there (Bill Crider?) can offer any clues as to context - or the identity of Bill Bell, "fellow worker with words" - I'd love to hear from you, either here or at my site.

ALSO: Reading Francis M. Nevins' introduction to the Cornell Woolrich collection TONIGHT, SOMEWHERE IN NEW YORK this week, I stumbled on another interesting Marlowe anecdote. In a letter he sent to Nevins in 1968, Marlowe recounts the night in the late 1950s when he drove down from Connecticut to Manhattan to go out drinking with Woolrich, whom he knew only casually, though both were writing for Avon Books at the time (the episode is recounted in full in Nevins' 1988 Woolrich bio FIRST YOU DREAM, THEN YOU DIE). "We had our evening, which turned out to be a disaster," Marlowe wrote. "He didn't drink much, but I learned quickly that any amount was too much for Woolrich. He simply went to pieces, and I learned later that this was his pattern... I never saw him again, although we did exchange a few notes from time to time. There was a wit in his notes sadly lacking in his person ..."

5 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I don't know who Bill Bell is (was?), but I do know that FOUR FOR THE MONEY is a terrific book. You made an enviable find.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Finding a book like that in a used bookstore has become very rare with the advent of Internet sales. I love the treasure hunt-not nearly as much fun to buy it online.

wstroby said...

pattinase (abbott) said...
Finding a book like that in a used bookstore has become very rare with the advent of Internet sales. I love the treasure hunt-not nearly as much fun to buy it online.
8:50 AM


Yes, everyone's more aware of what everything's worth these days. I've also been burned a couple times buying used books online, when the condition turned out to be substantially poorer than advertised. Still, you can occasionally make a great find in used shops. Earlier this year, I was looking through the Just Arrived stack at a used store, and found what appeared to be a first U.S. edition (Macmillan) of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, complete in a slightly chipped dust jacket, with that great Richard Chopping art for $19. According to the note penciled in on the frontispiece, whoever did the initial evaluation of the book when it came in was unsure if it was an actual first edition or not. It was.

wstroby said...

Bill Crider said...
I don't know who Bill Bell is (was?), but I do know that FOUR FOR THE MONEY is a terrific book. You made an enviable find.
8:28 AM


Actually, once I found that inscription and note, I was reluctant to subject the book to the rigors of handling and reading it, considering its age. I'll have to find another copy at some point to actually read.

Bill Crider said...

Since you've already made the big find, maybe you can just order a reading copy on-line. It's one of Marlowe's better books.