Saturday, January 9, 2016

Drum Beat Madrid by Stephen Marlowe

Stephen Marlowe was a pseudonym for Milton Lesser. Lesser also published numerous science fiction stories under his own name and I’ll be reviewing some of those soon. He wrote a great many novels featuring Chester Drum, an investigator based in Washington DC. Drum Beat Madrid is one of the later books (1966)) and published by Fawcett. I prefer Edward S. Aarons over Marlowe, but Marlowe had some good moments, too. Drum and his friend Axel Spade are in Madrid where Spade is entertaining matrimonial ideas. Their host, General Santiago Sotomayer, is an unpleasant chap to begin with. Then a girl is kidnapped and Drum and Spade appear to be the best solution. Add to the mix twenty million dollars in Spanish gold gone missing, too, along with some snooping Russians, and the intrigue level rises exponentially. Drum Beat Madrid is a bit convoluted and a few chapters longer than it should have been. What I enjoyed most were the introspective passages that Drum tosses out (the book is a first-person narrative) because they added some depth and some color. Here’s a great passage from chapter twenty-three: “Fiestas...You drink too much and sleep too little and there are the seductive pleasures of dancing in the streets and the hissing streams of chalky Spanish wine from the goatskin bags, and because everyone is poised on the thin edge of self-control you can, at the drop of a casual remark, fight a man or seduce a woman.” There’s a touch of history here with Drum’s relationship with Pamplona which echoes Hemingway. Drum Beat Madrid is light on action and Drum doesn’t even have his .357 magnum this time around. I’ve found that Stephen Marlowe’s Chester Drum books vary dramatically in quality. Drum Beat Madrid was good enough to keep me interested, but what I came away with was this sudden desire to visit Pamplona and drink wine from a goatskin bag while flirting with exotic women. Well, what’s wrong with that?

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