Review: Gunshots in Another Room: The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe by Charles Kelly

By Gabino Iglesias

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Dan J. Marlowe is known as one of the best suspense novelists in the history of the genre. Marlowe, who passed way in 1986, was at the top of his game in the1960s and 1970s, writing popular series and assuring his legacy with classics like The Name of the Game is Death and One Endless Hour. He was all about mystery, women, guns, secrets, and bank robbers. And then there were his books.

Marlowe is a mystifying figure whose life was marked by inscrutability and a combination of highs and lows that would leave anyone dizzy. In Gunshots in Another Room: The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe, author and journalist Charles Kelly delves deep into Marlowe's life and presents an impeccably researched account of the author's life that answers as many questions as it raises. However, calling this just a biography would be unfair because Gunshot in Another Room is also a meticulous study of Marlowe's writing, a rich history of the important figures in the author's life, and a brutally honest portrait of the man that's at once touching, candid, and written in a way that makes it as compelling as a Marlowe novel.

Marlowe, who didn't start writing until he was in his early 40s, had a career that, in many cases, resembled the plot of one of his novels. Gunshot in Another Room doesn't leave anything out, going as far as comparing paragraphs from different editions of Marlowe's novels, offering letters between the author and his agents, friends, and editors, and quoting from interviews done conducted by Kelly with people who knew Marlowe in different stages of his life. Since summarizing the biography would result in a long and tedious review, I'll offer some highlights:

1. Marlowe often worked with experts in order to minimize the amount of research he would have to do when it came to writing about cars, helicopters, guns, and safes. However, no collaborator would be as important as Al Nussbaum, a bank robber who once appeared on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List and with whom Marlowe would build a long-lasting friendship. The duo got in touch when Nussbaum wrote him a letter (he would also later call him using a fake name). Eventually Marlowe ended up visiting Nussbaum while he was in prison, played a role in helping Nussbaum win parole, and even tried to help him become a writer while he was still locked up. When Nussbaum was released, the two men lived together in Los Angeles and collaborated on short stories. Gunshot in Another Room offers a great deal of information about both Nussbaum and his very violent partner in crime, Bobby “One-Eye” Wilcoxson.

2. Writers depend on their brains for what they do. Sadly, Marlowe a strange case of amnesia that made writing an even harder task. While Kelly does a great job of presenting how the amnesia affected the author, the most poignant moments come from Marlowe's own pen as he writes about how hard it is to make decisions and how everything is unexplainably fuzzy.

3. Instead of celebrating Marlowe and shying away from the dark areas, Kelly exposes every aspect of the author's life with the same clarity and unflinching truthfulness. The man who is now a legend often received harsh critiques, relied on other for technical details, and struggled with some projects for many years. Also, Marlowe was unfaithful (although he had a picture of his dead wife wherever he lived), was well acquainted with booze for a period of his life, and a kinky streak that even came out in his work, which often featured a healthy dose of spanking.

Kelly's attention to detail, research skills, and writing chops are obvious in every chapter. While those elements alone make this biography worth a read, it's the combination of those things with Marlowe's remarkable story that makes this a must-read for fans of crime fiction.