Dan Marlowe put out 27 novels from 1959 through 1982, the first five being of the Johnny Killian hardboiled series (Doorway to Death , Killer with a Key , Doom Service , The Fatal Frails , Shake a Crooked Town ). Marlowe (not to be confused with Stephen Marlowe who put out the Chester Drum espionage series about the same time) then put out nine standalone crime and men’s adventure novels between 1962 and 1967, which included Backfire , The Name of the Game is Death , Strongarm , Never Live Twice , Death Deep Down , Four for the Money , the Vengeance Man , The Raven is a Blood Red Bird , and Route of the Red Gold . After Backfire, which was published by Berkeley, the rest were all Fawcett Gold Medal paperback originals.
In 1969, Marlowe returned to the character he created in his 1962 book the Name of the Game is Death, and focused on Earl Drake, to produce 11 more in a series, most of which were entitled “Operation” and all of which were published by Fawcett Gold Medal. These included One Endless Hour , Operation Fireball , Operation Flashpoint , Operation Overkill , Operation Breakthrough , Operation Checkmate , Operation Drumfire , Operation Stranglehold , Operation Whiplash , Operation Hammerlock , Operation Deathmaker , and Operation Counterpunch . Thereafter, one further book has been credited to Marlowe, although published under the name Gar Wilson -Guerilla Games.
Apparently, Marlowe’s life was almost as interesting as some of his characters and “Gunshots in Another Room: The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe” by George Kelly details that life, Marlowe’s friendships with convicted bank robber Nussbaum and another man who committed a savage murder after release from prison, Marlowe’s bouts with amnesia, and his trysts with kinky sex.
- The Name of the Game is Death (1962)
Dan Marlowe packs more action and intensity into the first five or six pages of this novel than most writers pack into a lifetime of work. It is the story of a bank robbery gone bad. But, what a robbery! “Two guys with guts and go-to-hell-with-you-Jack regard for consequences have about three chances in ten of pulling off a well-planned smash-and-grab. If one of them can shoot like me and the other one is Bunny, the odds are a damn sight better.” Bunny is six foot four or more. They walk in and slam a solid chunk of Smith and Wesson into the guard’s neck. A few well placed shots later and a huge canvas bag of dough walks out with them and all the bank’s employees and customers are in shock.
The principals are forced to split up. The narrator (Drake/ Roy Martin) who goes by several aliases is wounded and sends his giant friend ahead to Florida with instructions to send him $1000 at a time general delivery. But when the money stops coming and it appears that Bunny got into some kind of trouble, then what follows a cross-country adventure, seductive women, untrustworthy allies, and the like. This short novel is one of Marlowe’s best and it is full-tilt pulpy writing through and through.
Though, in some ways similar in feel and temperament to Westlake’s Parker character, the narrator here is rougher, more prone to violence, less worried about leaving a trail of bodies, and more determined to avenge any wrong.
The narrator, at some points, offers some background as to his upbringing and his cold, ruthless soul. Especially of note is how he deals with the fat kid at school who wronged him and how he deals with the police force in his small town.
This character created by Marlowe is nasty and hardboiled. This is a book filled with pure fun for the hardboiled enthusiast. Marlowe eventually continues on with the Drake character through a number of other novels
- One Endless Hour (1968)
Seven years after publishing “The Name of a the Game is Death,” Marlowe wrote the sequel, “One Endless Hour.” The backstory is that after the success of “The Name,” an actual real-life bank robber, Al Nussbaum, contacted Marlowe from prison, urging Marlowe to write a sequel. This is what he wrote before going on to portray the lead character, Drake, in nearly a dozen more books: the “Operation” series of books. “One Endless Hour” begins by recapping and actually presenting again the last chapter of “The Name.” Hint: read that one first.
Then, it goes off in a direction really reminiscent of Westlake’s Parker series, particularly “The Man With The Getaway Face.” Back in the sixties, plastic surgery was viewed as a way to perhaps completely change your appearance so much so that even your own mother wouldn’t recognize you. Like Parker, Drake changes his appearance and then goes after the loot he left behind when he got locked up. The bulk of the novel focuses on pulling off a caper, together with help from a planner or schemer and a mismatched pair of accomplices, one a compulsive gambler and the other a compulsive pornographer.
This is a smooth, professionally-written book that is quite a hardboiled caper novel. Anyone who enjoys a good caper novel will want to read this one.
- Operation Fireball (1969)
Operation Fireball” is the third book in the Drake series and it is a pivotal book in the series, marking Drake’s metamorphosis from hardboiled criminal to men’s adventure character. This is a terrific, fast-moving story which takes Drake and the redheaded Dynamo named Hazel into a new world of adventures from a wild battle with a horde of country folk to a search for millions in abandoned treasure in Fidel’s Havana. Getting there with a ragtag crew of criminals and smugglers is half the fun as they evade both Castro’s troops and an entire U.S. Military base. Although this book is a departure from the hardboiled goodness of the earlier books in the series, it works well as a tough nosed adventure story.
- Operation Flashpoint (1970)..
Marlowe’s Drake series is always an easy, fun read. This is the fourth book in the series, following “The Name of the Game is Death,” “Endless Hour,” and “Operation Fireball.” Although the first books in the series feature Drake as the toughest and most hardboiled of all criminals, by the time the fourth book rolled out, Drake was occasionally enlisted as a tough guy super agent. Although in the late sixties and early seventies, just about everyone tried their hand at creating their version of Fleming’s 007, few were as successful at it as Marlowe.
This book has Drake’s idyllic life in the ranch with redheaded Hazel interrupted by a terrorist hijacking and finds him jetting around the country to find the bad guys and also rescue a fallen angel from the crime-ridden city.
I found the writing to be crisp, the reading to be quick, and the story great fun. It was well-plotted and well-executed. Drake is a terrific shot with his .38, as smooth with the ladies as any agent anywhere, and simply balls-to-the-wall tough. A great action caper that builds to its inexorable climax.
You really won’t go wrong in grabbing any of the books in this series.
- Operation Beakthrough (1971)
When it came to men’s adventure fiction in the early seventies, the cream of the crop were Marlowe’s Earl Drake novels. These are all actionpacked, fast-reading stories. Drake, the man without a face, was originally the most hardboiled of bank robbers, but in busting out of a Florida psych hospital, he arranged for plastic surgery. Later, he met Erickson, who worked for some secret government agency and, in return for Drake’s work on secret missions to Cuba and other exotic locales, arrangements had been made for the govt to look the other way at Drake’s past. Most of the time he lives on an out of the way ranch in Nevada with Hazel, the big, redheaded Dynamo.
This “Operation” takes place in the Bahamas and, when Erickson, needs someone to break into safe deposit boxes in a bank vault, who better to turn to then Drake. From explosive bank robberies to manhunts on a small island, hoodlums, running gun battles, a killer masseuse, a kinky drug filled party, inefficient government bureaucracy, and a jailbreak, this book is jam packed with action. It has an easy late sixties/ early seventies feel. And there are humorous moments when Drake tries to find the secret agency he contracts with. Overall, this is another terrific fun read. Once you pick it up, you better not have anything else planned for the night.
- Operation Drumfire (1972)
Operation Drumfire is the sixth novel in the generally top-notch Earl Drake series. Drake was originally a bank robber and his capture and escape from custody in the first two novels of this series are some of the toughest, grittiest, most hardboiled stuff you will find anywhere. Drake, in making his escape got burned in a fire and lost his face and hair. Subsequently, he became Earl Drake, the man with nobody’s face. Later novels in the series paired him with a six foot tall redheaded Dynamo, Hazel Andrews, his romantic interest, who owns a ranch in Nevada where they spend time between missions. Missions?? Well, later novels also link Drake with a secret government agent Karl who sometimes needs unofficial help so that he can have plausible deniability.
Although generally a top men’s adventure series, this particular selection is a bit slow in getting rolling and disjointed. It lacks the punch that most of the Drake novels have. Don’t make this your first Or your last Drake novel. Read some of the others.
This novel takes us back to the early seventies as the flower power and peace love and understanding of the sixties gives way to violence and anger. It’s the San Francisco Bay Area and the Black Panthers ( or fictional equivalent) are up to something. There’s a mysterious set of shenanigans at a racetrack and Karl calls in a reluctant Drake and Hazel to desk with it. This book also marks the return of Candy Kane from Drake’s Bahamian adventure.
- Operation Checkmate (1972)
Operation Checkmate is the seventh volume in the Earl Drake series. In the first two books in what later became a series, The Name of The Game is Death and Endless Hour, readers were treated to top-notch hardboiled tales of a bank robber who burned his face off in a prison hospital escape and became the Man With No Face. Later novels morphed Drake from the hardest of hardboiled criminals to a reluctant agent for The Company and men’s adventure hero with adventures taking him to Cuba and Spain and the Far East. These later novels are for the most part unlike the first two, but are still fun reads.
Operation Checkmate involves Drake, Erikson, redheaded Hazel, and Chen Yi (from Drake’s adventures in the Bahamas) in a Cold War battle between Nationalist China and Communist China. It takes Drake from San Francisco to Honolulu to Taipei to Hong Kong and chronologically takes place as Operation Drumfire ends and Drake and Hazel prepare to head back to the ranch. It’s a fine adventure story filled with explosions, snipers, home invasions, spies, family secrets, and mystery.
- Operation Stranglehold (1973)
“Operation Stranglehold” is the eighth book in the 12-book Drake series by Marlowe. Although the first two books in the series (“Name of the Game is Death” and “Endless Hour”) were as decidedly hardboiled crime stories as any books anywhere, the later books in the series feature Drake ( the hard-nosed tough guy), Hazel (his big, beautiful, redheaded girlfriend), and Karl Erikson (the Treasury Agent) in a variety of adventures.
This one is a terrific, fun, fast read that has Drake and Hazel heading to the mountains of Spain to rescue Erikson from a Spanish prison. Of course, Drake is on his own and the government won’t acknowledge his presence there or provide backup. It’s a good adventure story that features some great action scenes.
Although there are lots of spy/ men’s adventure stories that were published in the seventies, few are as easy or as enjoyable to read as this one. It is smoothly written. Drake is never shy about using his gun. Hazel has a libido that never quits. And, Erikson plays a very different role in this book than in the others in the series.
- Operation Whiplash (1973)
In “Operation Whiplash,” the ninth Novel in the Drake series, Marlowe does an about-face and returns his series to its nasty, hardboiled roots. No international adventures or mysterious government agencies. When Hazel disappears, it’s Drake alone against an entire syndicate. This feels like many of the hardboiled detective stories of the fifties. This one is an all-out war against a pack of the meanest foes Drake has ever encountered.
Not only does Marlowe return this series to its hardboiled roots, but he takes Drake and Hazel back to the Florida town he never thought he’d return to — not after the mayhem he left in his wake there.
More than some of the other books in this series, Whiplash goes back over a lot of ground from the first two books, particularly Endless Hour. For anyone new to this series, this summary should fill you in completely on Drake’s background– at least as much as anyone knows.
- Operation Hammerlock (1974)
Operation Hammerlock, the ninth Earl Drake novel, is an absolutely terrific action-packed adventure. Here, Marlowe skips all the secret agent stuff with Erickson and plunks Drake and the redheaded temptress Hazel down in the heart of Mexico for a book that is chock- full of action from the very first pages. Drake takes on a dozen men to save a woman, faces a corrupt police force, is hired as a hitman, blackmailed, plots to rob a bank, climbs up a cliff to break into a fortress, and hopes to somehow make it back across the U.S. Border with half the federales in pursuit. This is simply terrific, fast-paced adventure fiction and, when he’s on his game, few can do it better than Dan Marlowe.
- Operation Deathmaker (1975)
“Operation Deathmaker” is the eleventh book in Marlowe’s Drake series and it is one excellent, wild, hell raising thriller of a novel. It is about as jam-packed with action as any novel could be from start to finish. It is just a pure adrenaline ride as Drake deals with a pack of kidnappers who will stop at nothing to get what they want and are more vicious than a pack of wild lunatic dogs.
If you are not familiar with the Drake series, you are in for quite a treat. Starting out as a ruthless bank robber, Drake is eventually captured by authorities in a fiery shoot out where most of his face burned away and locked up in a psych ward. He manages to get plastic surgery and, when he escapes, becomes the man without a face and without an identity.
The stories range from pure hardboiled to international adventure to pure thriller. This is a solid pulp thriller that takes place in Los Angeles. No international intrigue and no secret passwords in this one. Just a thriller about dealing with kidnappers Drake-style.
- Operation Counterpunch (1976)