JOHN LAWRENCE “Broadway Malady.” Short story. Lt. Martin Marquis #1. First publisheded in Dime Detective Magazine, February 1937. Collected in The Complete Cases of the Marquis of Broadway, Volume 1. (Altus Press, 2014); introduction by Ed Hulse.

   This is the first in a series of 26 tales written by veteran pulp writer John Lawrence about the redoubtable Lt. Martin Marquis, the so-called “Marquis of Broadway,” and the gang of men he used to keep law and order in Manhattan’s famed strip of brightly lit theatres and night clubs in the 1930s and (mostly) pre-war 40s. All of them appeared in Dime Detective. The last would have been appeared in 1942, butr one last one was finally published in 1948.

   Always flashily dressed, the dapper Marquis was actually little more than a criminal himself, if not an out-and-out gangster, nor were the policemen in his squad any better, and maybe even worse. . Their methods were crude but effective. In “Broadway Malady,” however, one particular overly ambitious night club owner makes the mistake of crossing him, to his lasting regret only a few pages later.

   It seems as though the latter has taken a liking to a beautiful young singer who is in love instead with a bandleader whom the Marquis has taken under his wing. When the former is found beaten up rather considerably, the Marquis takes it personally.

   What’s most striking about this story, even more than its setting — what major thoroughfare of its era was more famous than Broadway? — the rather standard plot, is the terse, understated way in which it’s told. I think “Broadway Malad” comes as close to matching the subtext of Dasheill Hammett’s tales than almost any of the latter’s would-be imitators. Other writers may steal Hammett’s plots, but very few of them seem ever to master the essence of how he told his terse, hard-bitten tales.

   Or in other words, there is almost as much to be read between the lines in “Broadway Malady” as there is story itself. Lawrence makes no concession to the reader. I can’t imagine many getting to the end of this tale without having to go back to see what they missed. When the pieces finally fit together, and they will, the light goes on.

   Chandler is easy to imitate. Hammett less so. It’s a pleasure to read a story that’s so solidly told in the latter’s manner. There are now only 25 more stories of the Marquis left for me to read. Luckily two thick volumes of his “Complete Cases” have recently been published by Altus Press, making up just over half the run. More, I hope, are on the way.