What a ride! By the second paragraph, Earl Drake has killed a man and, eight words later, Drake is robbing a bank. And then Dan J. Marlowe’s 1962 book, The Name of the Game is Death, really begins as the bank robbery has gone horribly wrong, Drake’s been shot and the gang has split up. A few weeks later, Drake stops hearing from his partner and he decides to go looking for his partner and his money.
But The Name of the Game is Death is more than just an action story, Marlowe builds Drake’s character wonderfully and gives us glimpses of his childhood. A boy is his school unleased his dog on Drake’s cat, killing it. But the young Drake took his revenge on the boy again and again. Below is the fourth beating Drake gave the kid, but his non-response to the minister is even more telling.
The next afternoon at school I had to chase the fat boy from the schoolyard clear over to within a couple blocks from his house before I caught him. It didn’t help him when I did.
Later that night the minister came to our house. He talked to me for a long time. All about the unexplainable things that happen in life, and the necessity for understanding. I understood, all right. What was all the talk about? I understood. I listened to him, though. I was polite. I wasn’t going to give them a chance to call me surly or bad-mannered. When he was tired talking, the minister went away. I don’t think even he thought he’d accomplished much.
The Name of the Game is Death is like an action movie that never pauses to breathe. If you are looking for a hard-boiled thrill, this is just the thing.
In his essay, The Wrong Marlowe, Charles Kelly writes:
Marlowe hadn’t written much for years by the time he died, but he had already written books good enough to captivate future generations of hard-boiled aficionados. In dedicating his 2005 novel “The Colorado Kid” to Marlowe, Stephen King called him “hardest of the hard-boiled.”