The Paperback Review: “Strongarm” (1963)

It was written by author Dan J. Marlowe, described by Steven King as the “hardest of the hardboiled”, and published by Gold Medal/Fawcett Books, retailing for a mere 40 cents on book shelves when it was first released. I, of course, had to pay more than that to own a first printing of the book, but it was well worth the price and I’m one satisfied customer, even 50 years after the book was originally published.

Strongarm Cover Art
1st Edition of Strongarm

Strongarm begins with Pete Karma, but that’s not his real name (we never learn his real name), as he follows Joe Foley onto the turnpike. Suddenly, a car traveling in the opposite direction careens across the center divide and crashes head on into Joe Foley’s automobile. Both automobiles explode and as Karma investigates the damage he finds a car door with a hand attached to it, and a briefcase handcuffed to the hand. Thinking that the hand and briefcase belongs to Joe Foley, Karma returns to his apartment and opens the “goods”, finding $750,000 in cash and some government papers written in a different language. Naturally, any strong armed, wise guy would ask “Who does the money belong to and what makes these foreign government papers so damned important?” Karma’s one of those guys who looks at a scenario from every possible angle and in this particular case, he finds himself to be the lucky one in the midst of a very profitable opportunity. But of course, when it comes to three quarters of a million dollars there’s always someone else who wants back what was originally theirs. So, Pete Karma finds himself in the middle of two warring fractions that are in search of the missing briefcase. Finders keepers…? No, not this time.

In the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s, and even 1980’s crime/espionage paperback novels were a popular source of entertainment. They were the kind of books you’d find on newsstands, in airports or train stations. Quick reads in which the reader could get their immediate fix of action, adventure, mystery, and sleaze. Authors would churn them out at a rapid pace and sometimes they were poorly written, but sometimes they were masterfully written. Dan J. Marlowe was one of those little renowned masters with a personal life as intriguing as his stories. There’s not enough time or space on this blog to list all of Marlowe’s novels or life story, but I hope that you’re at least fascinated enough by the premise of Strongarm to pursue the name Marlowe further.

I’ll leave you with an example of some of Marlowe’s hardboiled writing from Strongarm, brought to you by the first person narration of Pete Karma:

“Okay if I reach for a handkerchief?” I asked.  Nobody said anything. I took out a spare handkerchief and mopped myself off. From the feel, either some of last night’s scars had reopened or I had a fresh crop.”


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