The Second Longest Night (1955)
“The Second Longest Night” was the first of twenty Chester Drum mystery/adventures, one of the greatest tough guy series ever written. Although towards the beginning of this book Drum talks about reading Mike Hammer novels as a nod to the great Mickey Spillane, tough guy Drum is no carbon copy.
Based in Washington D.C., ex-FBI agent Drum runs a small private investigator’s office and his cases often stumble over international affairs, diplomats, and Cold War politics. He is also a globe-trotting PI whose adventures seem to take him all over the world, sometimes, although not here, as a CIA proxy.
This is a fast-moving, action-packed story involving his ex-wife’s apparent suicide, senators, congressmen, nosy blonde reporters, irresistible vixens, South American diplomats, astronomers, oil barons, and the Red Scare.
It is one terrific hard-edged story that is hard to put down and a great start to the series. Marlowe doesn’t try to be overly pulpy. His writing is not filled with too many clever memorable phrases. He just tells a good story and tells it pretty straight.
This is a highly recommended book.
Mecca for Murder (1956)
Chester Drum is Stephen Marlowe’s globe-trotting Hardboiled Private Eye. This volume is more about Islamic terror and playing Lawrence of Arabia than it is a murder mystery. Though published in 1957, the taking of 157 people including Americans hostage inside an Islamic center foreshadowed the hostage taking in a Mideast embassy twenty years later. There is a twisted love triangle, a belly-dancing diplomat, a kidnapping, double-crosses, and triple-crosses, but mostly it’s about an expedition into the belly of a foreign culture and the international reverberations. It’s an easy read, although the plot lines and connections seem a bit forced together as if separate stories were put together.
Killers Are My Meat (1957)
The Chester Drum series, consisting of twenty novels published between 1955 and 1968, although obstensibly a series about a Washington D.C. private eye, is also a globe-spanning adventure and espionage series that take Drum to an exotic locale in each story. Every one of the books in this series that I have read have been excellent, full of action, well-placed, well-plotted, and filled with travel to exotic locations.
Although on the surface, the plot may be similar to most PI novels with a murder or two, seemingly unconnected events, a femme fatale, a few rough characters, etc., these stories are so well fleshed out that it always feels like there is so much more to them.
“Killers are My Meat” (a title which has little to do with the story) finds Drum with a series of oddly disconnected cases involving a fellow private detective and a diplomat and a connection to the Indian consulate, but soon finds him flying to India, where his PI license means nothing, to contend with a foreign culture, religious adherents, hypnosis, kidnappings, beatings, mob violence, and international intrigue.
It is a story that is chock-full of action, hard-edged, and simply a joy to read.
Murder is My Dish (1957)
“Murder Is My Dish” is the fourth of the twenty Chet Drum novels that Stephen Marlowe left us. Although on its surface this is yet another hardboiled PI series, the Drum novels each begin with a typical PI case in the states, but then the action always shifts overseas to an exotic locale. This time the action involves Drum in a case spanning two continents and a mission of vengeance against the corrupt security chief of an imaginary corrupt Latin American country, Parana, sandwiched in next to Paraguay. From fights along the New York waterfront to kidnappings on the highways and a battle fought in a tenement leaving bodies strewn everywhere, the action never stops. And, it only gets better when Drum heads down to Parana to rescue a damsel in distress, fight for truth and justice, and get himself involved in a revolution against a brutal dictatorship.
Trouble is My Name (1957)
Trouble Is My Name is an action-packed Cold War thriller that takes Drum to the divided Germany of the late fifties. He tangles with Communists, ex-Nazis, and fortune hunters both in West Germany and behind the iron curtain in East Berlin – although interestingly this was written a few years before the construction of the Berlin Wall where a journey between the two sides involved getting through guard posts but not having to brace that barrier. The story feels far more like an espionage adventure story than a private eye caper. It is quite a good read but has a darkness and a gloom about it.
Violence is My Business (1958)
Great pulp novel. Great entertainment. Chester Drum is a hard Talking tough guy private eye based in Washington D.C. and whose cases often cross paths with Cold War issues and whose travels take him all over the world.
“Violence Is My Business” is a terrific hardboiled tale that takes Drum into a case involving a suicide, a blonde call girl who melts his heart, a rival investigator, a mean Southern sheriff who has it in for Drum, political intrigue, license suspensions, barroom brawls, and a mad dash on skis across a frozen wasteland.
It’s a fairly short novel and a real quick read. Great pulp novel. Great entertainment.
Terror is My Trade (1958)
The seventh Chester Drum novel takes Drum on a journey across the European continent as he tangles with political intrigue, blackmail, mobsters, family secrets, and is filled with action aboard an ocean liner, fist fights, and a race across Italy. This novel covers a lot of territory and Drum is a spy, a political operative, a conspirator, and a genuine good guy trying to do the right thing. There is more than one femme fatale here. The Drum series is one of the toughest and most hardboiled out there, placing Drum in a different country in each novel. This is not one of the best Drum stories as the plot becomes a bit convoluted and seems to get a little lost along the way. However, the fights with the mobsters in London, Paris, and Venice are great. The chase across the Italian countryside is not to be missed and nor is the final showdown. Overall, its definitely worth a read, particularly if you enjoy the Drum series.
Double in Trouble (1959)
Two Classic Detectives Meet
Chester Drum and Shell Scott together! It’s like Batman and Superman getting together. The Shell Scott mysteries can often be a little too silly, a little too cornball, but this one is a flat-out solid adventure where the action never stops from beginning to end. Told in alternating chapters with Prather’s Shell Scott narrating one chapter and Marlowe’s Chester Drum narrating the next, this is a great story filled with crooked unions, monsters, thugs, secret documents, missing witnesses, sexy women, and more. The battle takes our detectives from coast to coast and back again and is just a whole lot of great action. This would definitely make a great movie.
Homicide is My Game (1959)
“Homicide Is My Game” is just another in a long line of top-notch Chester Drum stories from Marlowe. This one has all the right stuff in it from a threatening rainstorm, seductive women, a murder, a sex scandal that threatens to tear apart a town, and a trip into the heart of Brazil. Oh, and for good measure, there’s the angry mob of villagers with their torches. It is a good fast read. It is filled with action. Drum can’t keep out of trouble even when all he does is try to help a hysterical teenager he found wandering in the rain. There is really nothing negative about this book. It is just good old fashioned storytelling.
Danger is My Line (1960)
The Chester Drum series by Marlowe is a terrific, hardboiled private eye/ espionage/ adventure series. Each book generally starts with events in or around Washington D.C., often involving foreign diplomats with immunity, and always takes Drum to an exotic locale.
This one takes him to both Iceland and Sweden and involves a man who was acquitted of a brutal murder of a diplomat, but then confesses to it in a national magazine, Cold War tensions, death threats, a blonde with a motive, an Icelandic stewardess, LSD, car bombings, and a fast paced violent action-filled story.
Although all of the Drum novels are worth reading, the underlying plot in this one is a bit confusing. It’s such a good book, though, that hardly matters. And Marlowe does a great job of storytelling.
Death is My Comrade (1960)
Published in 1960, this book firmly plants Drum in the midst of the Cold War. Drum is ex FBI agent who now works as a private dick in the DC area, but is often called upon to act in foreign countries where the CIA needs plausible deniability. He’s tough, no- nonsense and has all the right connections.
This story takes Drum from the dangers of Washington cocktail parties to the police state of Moscow and across the forests and fields of the Soviet Union. Murders, secret documents, kidnappings, Soviet interrogations, and more are all here as Drum plays hero and involves himself with a cast of characters, including a femme fatale in training, an industrial tycoon, and a Soviet dissident.
This is a good solid read filled with lots of action. It’s a spy story without all the crazy gadgets. It’s definitely not a soft, cozy tale. There is plenty of violence and backstabbing and there is a sort of hardboiled feel to the way the tale is told. All in all, quite a good read.
Peril is my Pay (1960)
If you read enough of the Chester Drum series, sooner or later you will feel as if you have explored all of Europe and South America without stepping on a plane. Marlowe was an intrepid traveler and he filled his books with the sights, sounds, and tastes of the exotic lands he favored. Drum is as cynical and hardboiled as any American detective, but Marlowe takes his detective and plops him all over the world for his adventures. These novels are punctuated by great writing with lots of action.
“Peril Is My Pay” is the 12th of the 20 Drum novels and it is a terrific read, but they all are. This one, however, doesn’t begin with an ordinary case in or around Washington D.C. Rather, it begins in Rome as the Olympic teams are preparing for the games only a week away. It takes Drum through the piazzas of Rome, the trattorias, the Spanish steps, and involves him a case involving Olympic athletes, possible Czech defectors, the Communists racing around to stop defections, a mad artist who does it with mirrors, an international smuggler who Drum had captured years earlier, and a collection of odd characters.
The story also may begin in Rome, but it also takes Drum into the heart of France and Germany, from medieval festivals to Hamburg’s mudwrestling and topless horseback riding nightclubs.
At times, the plot and the motivations of the various characters gets a bit convoluted, but the story is so filled with action and shoot-outs and fights and crosses and doublecrosses that it really doesn’t matter.
If you are looking for a hardboiled adventure novel with international intrigue like a James Bond story, you can’t do any better than this yarn. This is pure good stuff, indeed.
Manhunt is My Mission (1961)
In the thirteenth Chester Drum novel, “Manhunt is My Mission,” Marlowe drops all pretense that he is writing hardboiled detective novels and plunges Drum full-steam ahead into a crazy Middle Eastern adventure more akin to Lawrence of Arabia than to Phillip Marlowe. Drum finds himself in an imaginary Middle Eastern monarchy beset by a violent civil war between a British-style foreign legion and a Muslim fundamentalist terrorist organization. In the midst of bitter battle, Drum rescues damsels in distress and an American doctor who is determined to be where he can do the most good for the most people.
This top-notch novel, that is an adventure/war novel as much as anything else, takes the reader through the throes of siege of the major city, the refugees wandering through the desert, the brutality of the soldiers, the Westerners fleeing to the last ship to sail from the port, leaving behind whoever is left to fend for themselves in the violence, anarchy, and dictatorship, and kangaroo courts that remains. This story is chock-full of adventure and action and there is almost no let up from beginning to end. This was written in the mid-sixties and, even then, Marlowe manages to trace a post-Colonial history of the region where even the most benevolent dictators are co-opted by fundamentalist forces beyond their control and the tentacles of terrorism emanate from there even to the States.
Don’t pick this up, thinking it is a who-done-it or a tangle-with-the- local-mafia-hoods type of tale. For a great adventure story, I thought it was terrific and absolutely, without reservation, do recommend it.
Jeopardy is My Job (1962)
Another in a long line of excellent Chester Drum novels. Generally, these books have Drum get involved in a case in the States, but somehow it involves a diplomat or someone of that ilk and Drum heads overseas to find them and mete out justice. “Jeopardy,” however takes place entirely in the Costa del Sol, the southern region of Spain stretching from Malaga to Gibraltar and famous for its bullfights and fabulous beaches. In 1962, when “Jeopardy” was published, this was one of the places for the rich, lazy, drunk ones to gather. And, Marlowe weaves it all into this story from the indolent, drunk, sex-crazed, wealthy expatriates to the common fishermen and smugglers. Marlowe was well-known for his attention to the details of his exotic locales, which he knew well from his many travels.
This book, like the others in this top-notch series is plain old good stuff. Here, Drum operates as a detective on a missing persons case, but without any standing whatsoever in this foreign country. The story is fast-moving and filled with action. Drum has the cynicism and wit appropriate for a hard-boiled detective, but that cynicism doesn’t overwhelm the story.
Prepare for a journey to the exotic coast of Spain with its charm and manners and bullfighting. A highly recommended novel.
“Francesca” is the fifteenth novel in the Chester Drum series and the one where the title naming convention changes from “Manhunt is My Mission” and “Peril is My Pay” to “Drumbeat Erica” and “Drumbeat Berlin.” It also marks the first appearance of Axel Spade, the smuggling currency mastermind wanted in twenty countries and who often hires Drum. Besides all this, it is a great read and simply a terrific paperback original. The action all takes place in the Alps where Switzerland and France and Italy meet and snowstorms and ski meets are the backdrop. Throw in a Titian-haired Italian screen goddess, three million dollars, a vicious man, a determined thief, and hundreds of people who think they’ve been swindled and you’ve got a story. Whether the action is in the slopes or in the hidden cottages nestled in the mountains, this is a vintage Drum adventure. There are the bad guys, the damsels in distress, and a fabulous fortune if anyone can get their hands on it. Be forewarned that the action comes on so quick that you will not be able to savor this book for very long.
Marlowe just writes good pulp adventure. What else is there to say?
Drumbeat: Berlin (1964)
Having toured Berlin last year and seen nothing but a few remnants of the wall remaining — remnants preserved for the tourists to gape it, it is hard to imagine what Berlin was like after the wall went up in the early sixties, how the city was divided into the sector of freedom and the sector of totalitarian imprisonment. Thousands of people tried to win their way over that wall to freedom.
This, the sixteenth Chester Drum novel, is an ode to freedom and to those who fought the Soviets and their vassal states. It is a terrific piece of historical fiction and would make a terrific movie. All of the action takes place in the divided city of 1960’s Berlin. It is a world starkly divided where people in the East were not free to leave and a city filled with countless spies and double agents, brother against brother, friend against friend. Drum flies there to effect a rescue across the Iron Curtain. — beyond the Wall.
It is a story that is an espionage/ war story not a detective novel. It is a story of daring exploits and amazing heroic deeds.
In it, Marlowe paints a picture of the Berlin filled with agencies and spies none trusting each other and none sure of who has sold out whom or why. It is a world of strange nightclubs and buxom blonde Valkyries and reporters eager for scoops.
It is a terrific read, well-paced, well-written and filled with more action than novels three times its length.
Drumbeat: Dominique (1965)
Every single novel in this twenty book series is excellent and the seventeenth book series is no exception. All the action in this one takes place in France, in Paris and out in the countryside. This story is more personal to Drum than most as his oldest Washington buddy, Jack Morley, has fallen down deep into the French gutter and his life and reputation are at risk. And, Drum himself allows someone to get close to him. The plot involves blackmail, murder, influence, loan sharks, casinos, French prostitutes, and a bitter secret dating back to the days of Vichy France. The action is fast as is the driving and the plot well-paced. For international adventure, these hardboiled stories are real hard to beat. Great writing.
Drumbeat: Madrid (1966)
“Drumbeat Madrid” is the eighteenth out of twenty books in the top- notch Chester Drum series. It is a smoothly written, hard-edged, mystery/espionage/men’s adventure series.
“Drumbeat Madrid” takes place in . . . You guessed it: Spain. Move over Hemingway. Here’s a new recounting of the running of the Bulls in Pamplona. Mix that together with murder, kidnapping, family betrayals, a missing fortune, and the repressive Franco regime and there’s quite a story.
Drum is in Spain as the companion and best man of fellow adventurer Axel who is about to net his sixth wife, the sensuous high Castilian lady whose father was once a captain of the guardia. It is a story filled with adventure and nonstop action in this exotic locale and lingering in the background is the running of the Bulls, a weeklong party in northern Spain. A first-rate story
Drumbeat: Erica (1967)
It was published in 1967 and it is the era of hippies and psychedelic stuff and just about everyone in this novel, including Drum, ends up taking a long strange trip on LSD. But Marlowe attacks that plot line with the same skill he does everything else and it works quite well here without being silly as drugs are in other novels of that era.
At the heart of the plot is what happens when you hire a hitman and want to call off the hit but can’t contact anyone once the action has started. Here, you call in Chester Drum, PI and man of many talents.
Throw in Barroom brawls with sailors, gunfights in the streets of New York, a Nordic goddess (the title character Erica) who stops every conversation whenever she walks in a room, the canals of Amsterdam, the ski slopes of Switzerland, a matinee idol so stuck on his own looks and charm that no one can stand him, and maybe a cruise across the Atlantic.
It may not be much of a mystery but it’s a great action-oriented adventure story. A very enjoyable read. Highly recommended paperback original.
Drumbeat: Marianne (1968)
For the final volume in the twenty book Chester Drum series, Marlowe brings back a couple of recurring characters, Axel Spade and Marianne. Neither plays a huge role in this novel as Drum attends Spade’s funeral early on and Marianne is kidnapped by the KGB later that evening. However, both characters are vital to the plot of this novel. This Drum novel is closer to a James Bond story than a Phillip Marlowe novel, together with a gorgeous secret agent from the other side. Here, Drum travels half the world to tangle with KGB death squads and Yugolsav Secret Police. The story revolves around the 3/4 of a billion dollars in Spanish gold that Spade hoped to get his hands on in “Drumbeat Madrid.” Although most doubt anyone can wrest it from the Soviets or the Swiss bankers, the KGB wants Drum to find Spade who just might have the answers. Marianne dies if Drum doesn’t produce Spade. Only one problem — Spade is dead and buried. I like all the Drum novels, including this one. They are all without question great reading.