Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fiction: The Vengeance Man

(Dan J. Marlowe, Black Lizard Books, 1988, USA)
The best laid plans of mice and men can, well, fuck-up royally.
Another short, sweet, and typically hardboiled story from a mostly forgotten master of anti-hero prose. Dan J. Marlowe, who died in 1987 at the age of 73, is said to have supposedly worked in accounting, insurance and public relations before turning to writing at the age of 43 after the death of his wife. A prolific writer, he specialized in cynical page-turners populated by amoral and violent anti-heroes whose status as the "sympathetic" character was gained primarily by the fact that they were the nucleus of the story or because everyone else around them was even less likable.

Marlowe's novels generally clocked in well-below 200 pages and were published as paperback originals by such firms as Gold Medal or Avon. Amongst his large, mostly out-of-print oeuvre is at least one accepted classic of the genre, 1962's The Name of the Game is Death, which introduced the anti-hero safe-cracker/criminal/killer Earl Drake. The main character in a long series of product, Earl Drake was toned down book-by-book and eventually mutated into a U.S. secret agent. (As to be expected in such a case, the early novels in the series are the best.)
The Vengeance Man, however, does not seem to have been edited by anyone who desired any toning down, for it is truly a cold-hearted piece of noir in which each character seems to be just as amoral and self-centered as the next. The title and the blurb on the back cover are actually both rather misleading, for although the novel's hero is driven in part by a desire of vengeance, his true driving force owes a lot more to Horatio Alger. For though triggered by a need of vengeance, his motivating force after killing his cheating wife and emotionally destroying his hated father-in-law, is a perversely corrupted desire of financial improvement, of gaining an important position in the state apparatus – in other words, his desire of wealth and position and moving up the ladder in the world. And in the corrupt South Carolina world in which he slithers, it seems the only way to get what one wants is to go over bodies. Everyone has a hidden agenda, and though he is able to keep himself free and alive thanks to an incriminating film he has locked up in a safety deposit box, in the end he proves no match for the forces around him. Why bother with Camus’ The Stranger; in The Vengeance Man, you get the same central thematic idea with a lot more violence, sex and death but with much less pretentiousness.

The reprint from Black Lizard Books and a photo of the author, taken from this website here, where a short but highly interesting biography of the man can be also found.

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