Thieves Fall Out
By Gore Vidal
Hard Case Crime, April 2015/$22.99
Reviewer: Kevin Burton Smith
Despite the obvious pen name (Really? “Gore”?), this guy Vidal looks to be a pretty promising pulp writers. Whatever happened to him?
* * * * *
Of course, Gore Vidal wasn’t a pseudonym, or at least not much of one — Gore was a family name, and anyway, when this potboiler came out way back in 1953, it was published by “Cameron Kay.” After the homophobic furor unleashed following the publication of The City and the Pillar (1948), the suddenly black-listed Vidal, struggling to make ends meet, pumped out four pseudonymous crime novels, three well-regarded novels featuring a PR flack turned pseudo-P.I. as “Edgar Box,” and this one, his first stab at crime fiction, proof perhaps that the cheese stands alone.
But hey, who doesn’t like cheese?
Literally just off the boat, manly American drifter Pete Wells finds himself down and out in post-war Cairo, ready to do “almost anything to make a dollar.” So he’s easy prey for a gang who rope him into their scheme to smuggle a priceless historical artifact, a necklace with a ruby as big as “a pigeon’s egg,” out of Egypt. Naturally, the thieves aren’t playing it totally straight but then Pete’s no boy scout either — he soon suspects he’s being played for a patsy.
The plot’s pretty much by the book, but the well-rendered setting (Vidal lived for a while in Egypt) is well used, and you’ve gotta love a multicultural gallery of rogues that includes a jaded but pip-pip British agent, a charming criminal mastermind right out of a Fleming novel, a piano-playing hunchback, a lusty French countess, a crooked Egyptian cop with the disconcerting name of Mohammed Ali and a sexy German lounge singer with a secret Nazi past and ties to King Farouk himself.
Oh, the era’s usual racial and cultural stereotypes are all present and accounted for (“swarthy” gets a particularly good workout), and Vidal’s piercing wit is for the most part missing, but there’s the sense he was still very much exploring new avenues. He got better, and the success of his subsequent Edgar Box books convinced him to aim higher. By the end of the decade he was cranking out scripts for stage, television and film, as well as scores of essays and non-fiction books, eventually becoming one of his era’s pre-eminent essayists and “public intellectuals.”.
But historical and literary interests aside, the book’s just a lot of fun; very much a product of its era. Not as twisted as Spillane or Thompson, or as psychologically complex as MacDonald or Whittington, but chockful of that good old pulpy flavour. Give it a Gold Medal for effort.
Posted: 18 Apr 2015 08:52 AM PDT
My patience with modern thrillers—anything late-1990s and beyond—is thin. They always open with potential and then become less interesting with each page. I start several each year, but seldom get past the 100th page before cleaning the gutters is preferable. Dean Koontz is the exception to the rule; although labeling him as a thriller writer is similar to confusing a Corvette with a Kia Soul.
I recently read his 2006 novel The Husband, and I was mesmerized from the first sentence to the last. Its opening is undeniably appealing:
“A man begins dying at the moment of his birth.”
Mitchell Rafferty is happily married, moderately successful with a two man gardening operation, and about to be pulled into nightmare. It begins quickly and without remorse. The day: Monday, May 14, 11:43 AM. Mitch is planting red and purple impatiens when his cell phone rings. A man’s voice:
“‘We have your wife.’”
The kidnapper demands $2 million in exchange for her life. A sum that is not only unobtainable, but nearly unimaginable for Mitch. More revelation would spoil the meal, but there are a handful of brilliantly executed plot twists—none expected, anticipated, or doubted once revealed—and suspense alarming enough for sweaty palms, shallow breathing, and sleepless nights.
The prose—like everything Mr Koontz writes—is smooth and easy as glass. It is poetic in its simple, metered manner; easy to read and brilliant. But everything about The Husband is brilliant; from plot to prose to character to theme. And even better, it opens with death, but ends in a flutter of life:
“Although he knows her as well as he knows himself, she is as mysterious as she is lovely, an eternal depth in her eyes, but she is no more mysterious than are the stars and the moon and all things on the earth.”
Winter in a Day by Ben Boulden Gravetapping
Posted: 16 Apr 2015 02:10 PM PDT
It has been a long dry winter in my neighborhood. High skies, bad skiing, and uneventful driving. A handful of bushes in my front yard, miraculously, never lost their leaves and really look terrific this spring. I shoveled my driveway a whopping three times; a frequency my back enjoyed. But yesterday the sky opened and winter arrived dropping 6 or 7 inches. It lasted a meager 24 hours, but it was wonderful.
Then this morning things got even better. I found a visitor in my backyard. A small buck mule deer—velvet covered antlers between his ears—laying in a deciduous alcove. The snow like ground cover around his bed. It really is the small stuff.
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Little Molly Messenger is kidnapped on a sunny June
morning. Three days later she’s returned, apparently
unharmed. A few days later, the brakes go out on Molly’s
An accident? Maybe. Except that it turns out that Chris,
Molly’s mother, is the IT manager at a large Chicago bank
and may have misappropriated three million dollars. Molly’s
father hires PI Georgia Davis to follow the money and investigate Chris’s death.
Doubleback reunites PI Georgia Davis (Easy Innocence)
with video producer Ellie Foreman (An Eye For Murder,
A Picture Of Guilt, An Image Of Death, A Shot To Die For).
The two women track leads from Northern Wisconsin to
an Arizona border town, where illegal immigrants,
muggled drugs, and an independent contractor come into play.
Finally, if you are Bouchercon-bound this fall, two of my
works are eligible to be nominated for an Anthony Award
(the deadline for nominations is in 2 weeks):
— Nobody’s Child is eligible for Best Paperback Original
— “No Good Deed,” about the unlikely friendship
between a former KKK member and a young black
boy in prison, is eligible for Best Short Story. I
t was published in the Fiction River Special Crime Edition,
WGM Publishing. I
f you’d like to read the story, let me know. I’ll get it to you.