Tuesday, December 31, 2013
***The Life And Times Of Michael Philip Marlin-Trouble Is Still My Business –Preface
From The Pen Of Frank Jackman-with kudos to Raymond Chandler
I like to think that one Michael Philip Marlin who worked out of Ocean City just south of Los Angeles back in the day now incorporated into the vast city had many of Marlowe’s attributes-and Chandler’s too.Preface by Peter Paul Markin
If you get one thing right in this wicked old world, or the literary segment of the beast, or better, the crime novel sub-segment (okay, okay genre) you know that one Michael Philip Marlin’s business was trouble, trouble pure and simple. And sisters and brother while you are getting that right you best put it down that trouble, trouble with a capital T added, was this classic hard-boiled private detective Marlin’s business. We have previous followed old school Marlin through thick and thin in the many short sketches that make up this collection.
Our intrepid private eye, private dick, shamus, gumshoe or whatever you call a guy that, privately, and for too little dough scraped off other people’s dirt, and did it not badly at that, in your neighborhood. And kept his code of honor intact, well mostly intact, as he, for example, tried to spare an old man some anguish, some wild daughters anguish, or tried to find gigantic Moose’s Verna, Verna, sweet Verna who did not want to be found, not by Moose anyway, or find some foolish wayward daughter despite his client’s ill-winded manners. And on it went.
Oh yah, about Frank Jackman, about the guy who wrote this selection of short Marlin sketches. Like I said in another review he, following along in the train of Brother Raymond Chandler and Brother Dashiell Hammett has attempted to turned the dreary gentile drawing-room sleuth by-the-numbers crime fighters and high-tech wizards masquerading as detectives that dominate the reading market these days on its head and gives us tough guy blood and guts detectives we can admire, can get behind, warts and all.
[Hammett, the author of The Thin Man, and creator of The Maltese Falcon’s Sam Spade, maybe the most famous tough guy detective of them all. Chandler the prodigious creator of the Philip Marlowe series of novels and short stories. Sam and Marlowe, who come to think of it like Marlin, also had judgment problems when it came to women, women wearing that damn perfume that stops a man, even a hard-boiled detective man cold, in Marlowe’s case an assortment of Hollywood women and Sam’s a frill who was looking for the stuff of dreams up north in Frisco town.]
In Jackman’s case he has drawn strength from his startling use of language to describe Marlin’s environment much in the way a detective would use his heightened powers of observation during an investigation, missing nothing. Marlin was able to size up, let’s say, a sizzling blonde, as a statuesque, full-bodied and ravishing dame and then pick her apart as nothing but a low-rent gold-digger. Of course that never stopped him from taking a run at one or two of them himself and then sending them off into the night, or to the clink, to fend for themselves. He also knew how to blow off a small time chiseler, a grifter, as so much flamboyance and hot air not neglecting to notice that said grifter had moisture above his upper lip indicating that he stood in fear of something if only his shadow as he attempted to pull some caper, or tried to pull the wool over Marlin’s eyes. Or noticing a frayed collar or a misshapen dress that indicated that a guy or gal was on cheap street and just maybe not on the level, maybe scratching like crazy for his or her coffee and cakes.
The list of such descriptive language goes on and on -sullen bartenders wiping a random whisky glass, flighty chorus girls arm in arm with wrong gee gangsters, Hollywood starlet wannabes displaying their wares a little too openly, old time geezers, toothless, melting away in some thankless no account job, guys working out of small-time airless no front cheap jack offices in rundown buildings on the wrong side of town doing, well, doing the best they can. And cops, good cops, bad cops, all with that cop air about them of seen it all, done it all blasé, and by the way spill your guts before the billy- club comes down on your fragile head. (That spill your guts thing, by the way a trait that our Marlin seemed organically incapable of doing, except when it suited his purposes. No cop or gangster could force anything out of him, and they tried, believe me they tried. ) He had come from them, from the cops, from the D.A.s office in the old days, had worked with them on plenty of cases but generally he tried to treat them like one might a snake not quite sure whether it is poisonous or not.
At the same time Jackman is a master of setting the barebones detail of the space Marlin had to work in- the high hill mansions and the back alley rooming houses (although usually not the burgeoning ranchero middle class locales since apparently that segment of society has not need of his services and therefore no need of a description of their endless sameness and faux gentility). He had a fix on the museum-like quality of the big houses reflecting old wealth California, mostly in the south where he plied his trade. And he has a razor sharp sense of the arrivisite, the new blood all splash and glitter, all high-ceiling bungalow, swimming pools, and landscaped gardens.
But where Jackman has made his mark is in his descriptions of the gentile seedy places, the mansions of old time Los Angeles Bunker Hill turned to rooming houses with that faint smell of urine, that strong smell of liquor, that loud noise that comes with people living too close together, too close to breath their simple dreams. Or the descriptions of the back alley offices in the rundown buildings that had seen better days populated by the failed dentists, the sly repo- men, the penny- ante insurance brokers, the con artists, the flotsam and jetsam of the losers in the great American West night just trying to hang on from rent payment to rent payment. Those denizens of these quarters usually had a walk on role, or wound up with two slugs to the head, but Jackman knows the type, has the type down solid.
Nor is Jackman above putting a little social commentary in Marlin’s mouth. Reflections on such topics as that very real change after World War II in the kind of swarms that were heading west to populate the American Western shore night. The rise of the corner boys hanging, just hanging, around blasted storefronts, a few breaking off into the cranked up hot rod hell’s highway night. The restless mobsters for broken back east looking to bake out in the southern California sun while taking over the vast crime markets. The wannabe starlets ready to settle for less than stardom for the right price. The old California money (the gold rush, gold coast, golden era money) befuddled by the all new waves coming in. And above all a strong sense of the rootlessness, the living in the moment, the grabbing while the grabbing was good mentality that offended old Marlin’s code of honor.
And of course over a series of sketches Jackman has expanded the Marlowe character, expanded his range of emotions, detailed his growing world-weariness, his growing wariness, his small compromises with that code of honor that he had honed back in the 1930s. Yes, Marlin the loner, the avenging angel , the righter of wrongs, maybe little wrongs but wrongs in this wicked old world. The guy who sometimes had to dig deep in his office desk drawer to grab a shot or six of whiskey to help him think things through. Marlin the guy of a thousand punches, the guy of a hundred knocks on the head, the guy who had taken a more than one slug for the cause, the guy who was every insurance company’s nightmare and a guy who could have used some serious Obamacare health insurance- no questions asked . Yah, Marlin.