Review: The Name of the Game is Death / One Endless Night by Dan J. Marlowe

If you say Dan J. Marlowe’s name, it echoes with the hardboiled, but his prose and style is just as tough:

“I’ll be leaving one of these days, and the day I do they’ll never forget it.”

He wrote in the heyday of the paperback original. His best work was published by Gold Medal, and his novels stand above many of his contemporaries as hard and uncompromising tales of crime and suspense.
      Marlowe’s life was as strange as most fiction: he is likely the ugliest womanizer ever exported by Massachusetts; he gambled professionally for several years; he befriended, lived with, and co-wrote several short stories with the notorious bank robber Al Nussbaum; and late in life he developed memory loss, and something called aphasia – “partial or total inability to write and understand words.”
      Two of Marlowe’s best books – The Name of the Game is Death (1962) and One Endless Hour (1969) – tell the genesis story of his popular Earl Drake series character. A series that ran 12 books from 1962 to 1976. Drake is a violent bank robber that kills without hesitation or remorse, but only if his circumstances require it. In The Name of the Game is Death, Drake is wounded while escaping a botched bank robbery. He splits with his partner and finds a doctor and a dark place to hide until he’s recuperated. Drake’s broke and his partner disappeared with the stolen cash. Drake spends the rest of The Name of the Game is Death searching for the money and One Endless Hour details the fallout (or consequences) of that search.
      The two books merge into a single engrossing story, which is not to say either is dependent on the other because both are complete with beginning, middle, and end. However, the plot in One Endless Hour is built directly from The Name of the Game is Death. The final chapter of the first book is the prologue, with a few adjustments, to One Endless Hour and they are best read as one uninterrupted tale. 
      The Name of the Game is Death is the stronger of the two novels. There are details about Drake’s childhood that explain (without apologizing for) his amoral character. Its backstory emphasis and character development are reminiscent of John D. MacDonald, but only just. Its prose is raw and hardboiled:

“I swear both his feet were off the ground when he fired at me. The odds must have been sixty thousand to one, but he took me in the left upper arm. It smashed me back against the car. I steadied myself with a hand on the roof and put two a yard behind each other right through his belt buckle. If they had their windows open they could have heard him across town.”

And it is more thematically related to Jim Thompson than John D.
      One Endless Hour is a straight caper novel and lacks the character development of The Name of the Game is Death. It is high octane action without any shame for what it is. In a sense, One Endless Hour is the climactic resolution to the entire story, and the differences in the pacing and plotting between the two books strengthens the reading experience.

Stark House Press has published The Name of the Game is Death and One Endless Hour in a single volume. It includes a terrific Introduction by Marlowe's biographer, Charles Kelly, which is where I cribbed the biographical details above.  See it at Amazon.

Dan J. Marlowe’s Earl Drake Books…

·         The Name of the Game is Death (1962)

·         One Endless Hour (1969)

·         Operation Fireball (1969)

·         Flashpoint (1970)

·         Operation Breakthrough (1971)

·         Operation Drumfire (1972)

·         Operation Checkmate (1972)

·         Operation Stranglehold (1973)

·         Operation Whiplash (1973)

·         Operation Hammerlock (1974)

·         Operation Deathmaker (1975)

·         Operation Counterpunch (1976)



  1. I think I read The Name of the Game is Death years ago and like a lot of things remember little. I'll have to re-visit his work. Thanks for the rmeinder, Ben.


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