Saturday, February 23, 2008

Trouble Comes in Threes

It was just a year ago that novelist Stephen Marlowe (né Milton S. Lesser) lamented the death of his onetime writing colleague, Richard S. Prather. Now, Marlowe himself has passed away at age 79. He died yesterday, February 22, in his hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia. Marlowe started out penning pulp detective and science-fiction yarns; however, he is best remembered for his series of novels featuring Washington, D.C.-based but world-traveling private eye Chester Drum, beginning with The Second Longest Night (1955). Drum’s last novel-length adventure was in Drumbeat: Marianne (1968), but he made a welcome reappearance in a 2003 short-story collection, Drumbeat: The Chester Drum Casebook (Five Star). In addition to the Marlowe pseudonym, Lesser also wrote as C.H. Thames, Jason Ridgway, Andrew Frazier, Adam Chase, and once even as Ellery Queen, producing Dead Man’s Tale (1961). He received The Eye (Lifetime Achievement Award) from the Private Eye Writers of America back in 1997.

This is turning out to be a rather unfortunate week for fans of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

Only a day before Marlowe’s demise, Robin Moore--whose 1969 non-fiction book, The French Connection: A True Account of Cops, Narcotics, and International Conspiracy, was adapted (by no less than Ernest Tidyman, creator of African-American detective John Shaft) into the 1971 crime film The French Connection--passed away in Kentucky at age 82. In its obituary of Moore, The New York Times noted something that I’d quite forgotten, that “In 1986 Mr. Moore pleaded guilty to selling fraudulent literary tax shelters. The government charged that Mr. Moore published books and sold the royalty rights to promoters and investors at inflated prices based upon arbitrary and unrealistic values.”

Finally, Mystery*File’s Steve Lewis draws our attention to a third passing, that of French writer Alain Robbe-Grillet, who died on February 18 at age 85. Though known best as a literary stylist and contributor to the nouveau roman trend, and as the screenwriter for Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Lewis points out that Robbe-Grillet also wrote crime fiction. Those that have been translated into English include Jealousy (La Jalousie, 1957), In the Labyrinth (Dans le Labyrinthe, 1959), and The Erasers (Les Gommes, 1962). [UPDATE: There’s more on Robbe-Grillet’s literary contributions in Salon.]

(Hat tip to The Gumshoe Site.)


Graham Powell said...

The film of The French Connection has been running on American Movie Classics all week.

Too bad about Marlowe. The Stephen Drum books, while not breaking new ground, are really well-done detective novels.

Anonymous said...

I'm SO sorry to learn the bad news regarding Marlowe! He was really a brilliant writer whose historical novels should be placed, considered, and studied among the best of US literature. I hope he is in a very sunny, happy place now. Thank you for those and all your novels, Mr. Marlowe.