“You don't deserve it, but I’ll give you a choice,” I said. “I was going to leave you out here, with the heat and the mosquitoes and the bugs and the snakes and the alligators. You’ll never make it in. I doubt if I could myself.” His whole face was wet as he stared at me. “You won’t go easy if you stay, so I’ll give you the choice. Stay, or take one dead center from this.” I waved the little handgun … “You’ll go out of your mind out here in twelve hours.” His chest was heaving as he tried to pump air through his constricted throat. “Take the bullet.”
— from The Name of the Game is Death (1962)
HOLLYWOOD IS FOR THE YOUNG AND TOUGH, a place where you must be beautiful simply to survive, let alone prosper. God help you if you’re homely, aging, and physically beaten. Double that if you’ve lost the creative skills you’ve counted on, and forgotten much of your life and all the people you’ve known. Double that again if you’re a writer. Let’s say it’s 1978 and you are Dan J. Marlowe, once one of the hottest suspense novelists of your day, author of such hard-boiled Fawcett Gold Medal paperbacks as The Name of the Game is Death, The Vengeance Man, Never Live Twice, and the Operation books, featuring a bank robber turned international agent. It’s 1978, yes, and the market for that kind of book has evaporated. You’re 64 years old, suffering from amnesia, glaucoma, and the consequences of a stroke. It’s painful for you even to lift your hands high enough to type.
Though you’re chubby and unathletic and wear dark, horn-rimmed glasses, in the past you’ve been hell with the ladies. Now those ladies are ghosts to you. You’ve spent more than 15 years living in Harbor Beach, Michigan, a picturesque, isolated town on the shore of Lake Huron. You made a good living, served on the city council, partied with the Rotary Club. And you found time to indulge in your own secret sexual quirkiness. Now you’re broke and short of options. So you’re moving to the City of Fallen Angels to share an apartment with a former bank robber. To try to put your writing life back together, maybe even get movies made from your books....read more