Anyone who knows me or reads this blog on a semi-regular basis knows that I love a good crime caper. If it involves private investigators, hardboiled lingo, and lots of supercilious metaphors, all the better. That’s why I nearly had a brain-gasm when the people at Mysterious Press asked me if I wanted to read Killers Are My Meat by Philip Marlowe. There's also the "that's what she said"-worthy title thrown into the mix, which makes it even better. Better still (or more-better, if you prefer the redneck dialect), Mysterious Press is offering up an electronic copy of the book to all you gentle readers, which you can enter to win using the Rafflecopter widget at the bottom of the post.
Never heard of Marlowe? That’s O.K., neither had I until I started perusing the Mysterious Press book catalog. He was the author of a multitude of science fiction and mystery novels (59 according to my count) who wrote mostly during the 50s, 60s, and 70s. His real name was Milton S. Lesser, but he also wrote under other pseudonyms such as Adam Chase, Andrew Frazer, Jason Ridgway, and even Ellery Queen (for one novel in the Ellery Queen series).
Of all of his fictional creations, though, he is most remembered for his hardboiled
detective Chester Drum. The Drum novels
follow the predictable model of the Chandler-esque private eye. You know what I’m talking about—the
30-something, single, ex-cop with a one-man agency in a major Washington D.C. city who tells his story in a
metaphor-laden first-person narrative. Some
people might say that that means these types of mysteries are trite and stale,
but those people can just shut the hell up.
These things are my bread and butter.
I inhale this kind of stuff faster than a dozen hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Never had a hot Krispy Kreme? I feel sorry for you. I swear, those things disappear into a black
hole when I’m around. And don’t even get
me started on the “Hot Now” sign. I
don’t care if there are eight lanes of traffic between me and that bad
boy. When I’m driving and I see that
beacon of melt-in-your-mouth-deliciosity, you might as well get out my damn way
‘cos I’ma run your ass over if I have to.
Papa needs his fix! U.S.
But, erm… well, that’s a tangent for another day. And another pants size. Moving on.
Marlowe managed to set his stories apart from the pack by adding a dash of espionage and whole helluva-lot of international travel. Indeed, almost all of the books feature Drum traveling to some far-flung country in pursuit of whatever case he happens to be working. Killers Are My Meat (1957) is the third installment in the series and sees Drum winging off to
|Milton Lesser (a.k.a. |
It’s not long before the bad guys come looking for Sprayregan, using a car to run down the two of them. Drum makes it. Sprayregan doesn’t. After some time spent recuperating in the hospital, Drum heads back to D.C. to lick his wounds and figure out who killed his old buddy. In the meantime, Mrs. Stewart Hoffman Varley, Jr. hires him in the middle of the night to drive out to some
Maryland road house and rescue her husband, a soul-searching
diplomat who does most of his searching at the bottom of a bottle. Hubby dearest has managed to royally piss off
a couple hoods who are waiting outside the roadhouse to bash his skull in. Drum does a little bashing instead, drives
Mr. Varley home, and turns him in to the Mrs. Washington
Somewhere in the mix of all of this, several things become apparent. 1) The guys at the roadhouse are attached to the Indian ambassador at their consulate in
Washington, 2) these are
the same guys that ran down Sprayregan in their car, and 3) Mr. Varley is the insider who
played part one of two in the affair Sprayregan was trying to use as blackmail
fodder. I know, convenient how all of
that works out, ain’t it? But it’s
hardboiled detective fiction, so just roll with it. At the center of the plot is Sumitra
Mojindar, wife to the Indian ambassador and the femme fatale for this little
yarn. While the ambassador is a pacifist
after Mahatma Ghandi’s own heart, she’s a man-eating bitch-whore if there ever
was one. Drum discovers that she was the
philandering wife who Sprayregan was attempting to blackmail, and that she and
her party are behind his death. However,
proving all of that is another matter.
Before Drum can bring the slow gears of justice to bear upon the
dastardly dame, she and her party scoot back to Washington to head up something called
the Benares Conference, a gathering of Asian countries meant to establish
solidarity in the region and shuck involvement from the Western powers. India
|Original Gold Medal Edition|
In the meantime, Stewart Varley (the soul-searching diplomat, remember?) is assigned as a western observer to the conference, and off he goes too. His wife hires Drum to look after him, who, having that convenient excuse and source of expense money, wings off to distant
as well. For the rest of the novel
(fully half), Drum shadows Varley as the diplomat seeks for meaning among
Indian mystics, dogs the trail of Sumitra Mojindar and her stooges, and
generally tries to navigate the customs and traditions of the Indian city of
the dead. India
The narrative that evolves is reminiscent of Raymond Chandler’s early work (technically proficient with spots of brilliance but without the heady over-indulgence of philosophical musings of later novels) if Raymond Chandler had decided to throw Philip Marlowe into a tale of international espionage (or espionage-lite, if you prefer). It has all the things you've come to expect from a hardboiled mystery of this era: the wise-cracking P.I. with a heart of gold, the evil femme fatale, hard-nosed toughs, gun play, lots and lots of alcohol, and a protagonist who repeatedly gets clocked over the head and knocked unconscious without sustaining any lasting damage (Concussions? What are those?). But Killers Are My Meat also incorporates a lot of deeper themes, such as the search for meaning in the modern world, colonialism in the far east, and western culture’s impact on emerging independent nations. True to it’s Noir-ish roots, the book doesn't attempt to answer any questions, but simply poses them as obstacles for its protagonist to overcome.
While he isn’t as good as the greats of the genre (
Hammett, MacDonald, etc.), Stephen Marlowe and Chester Drum are noteworthy
progeny of the glory days of hardboiled detective fiction. Killers
Are My Meat stands on its own despite the half a century since its original
publication, and that’s why I give it four out of five stars. It’s just a shame that the modern literary
conscience seems to have forgotten about old Marlowe. But hopefully, with the help of publishers
like Mysterious Press, that will change. Chandler
Alright, now for the giveaway stuff. First, the rules. The contest is open to residents of the United States only. One random winner will receive an ebook edition of Killers Are My Meat. Must be 18 years of age or older to enter. You get one freebie entry just for stopping by (and being one of the cool kids), and you can gain more entries by doing stuff like following the blog, tweeting about the giveaway, following Mysterious Press on Twitter, what have you. If you have any questions, give me a shout, and good luck!