Friday, August 31, 2012

FFB: The Cross-Eyed Bear - Dorothy B. Hughes

Much has been written about Dorothy B. Hughes, one time poet, mystery writer and champion book reviewer, but usually with an emphasis on the same two books over and over. Like Christianna Brand who for decades was only known for Green for Danger, you would think Hughes wrote only those two books (Ride the Pink Horse and In a Lonely Place) both of which like Green for Danger were adapted into exceptional crime movies. Is it the movies that have overshadowed her other work?

Though her overall output totals less than fifteen novels, she has a rich and varied body of work in which she played with many of the tropes of the detective novel mixing and blending them with other subgenres (the espionage tale, the woman in peril tale, the pursuit thriller) to come up with a kind of specialty tale of terror that would be her trademark. As the reviewer for the Chicago Sun once wrote: "Mrs. Hughes is...capable of making terror rise out of a sentence which, from any other writer, would seem innocuous." One of her most overlooked books is her second novel, The Cross-Eyed Bear (1940), an intriguing, exceptionally suspenseful, amalgamation of the whodunnit and the woman in peril thriller.

Lizanne Steffasson is hiding under an alias. She has travelled to New York to find the murderer of someone in her past. Through a chance encounter in a theater she overhears mention of a newspaper ad in connection with the Lorenzo Hotel. Later that night she finds what she believes to be the ad in question:
Wanted: A beautiful girl. One not afraid to look on
danger's bright face. Room 1000, The Lorenzo.
Fully aware that she is far from beautiful, Lizanne nonetheless dolls herself up transforming herself into a fair semblance of a glamor girl and applies for the job. To her astonishment after only a few probing questions she is almost immediately hired. And phase two of her plan can be put into operation.

Her new employer, Bill Folker, is a lawyer who works for a man that Lizanne also secretly knows -- Stefan Viljaas, the eldest son of Knut Viljaas, known by his less than complimentary nickname the "cross-eyed bear". During the course of the interview Folker tells a story that seems like something out a book of fairy tales or a Shakespearean romance. Viljaas, a Finnish billionaire, had three sons all of whom he despised. When he died he left to those sons his estate in the form of a single check along with some very strange rules on how the fortune was to be distributed:
...to them the father left three million dollars, unbelievably in cash. [...] The legacy was given in the form of a check, divided into three triangles, one for each son. This check could not be cashed until the twenty-first birthday of the youngest son, and only if the three sections were presented together. Each triangle contains not the son's name but Old Viljaas' seal of the cross-eyed bear. Furthermore, the check must be endorsed in triplicate with the cross-eyed bear.
Shortly before his twenty-first birthday the youngest son, Dene, disappeared while on a hunting trip never to be heard from again. Murder was suspected but no body was ever found. The seal with the cross-eyed bear was thought to be in his possession also seemed to vanish. Neither could be found his triangular portion of the check. As stipulated in the will the check must be cashed by April 1. If not, the entire fortune will go to a group of "fool societies that the Old Bear favored." Lizanne is hired to help find the missing sons, Dene and Lans, recover the missing check pieces, and learn who is in possession of the all important seal with the cross-eyed bear.

It is this wild "Mission: Impossible" task that takes Lizanne on a terrifying journey into a world of greed, deceit, betrayal and murder. All the while the reader is privy to all of Lizanne's secrets, cleverly and surprisingly revealed as she navigates her way through an alternative Manhattan in which no one is to be trusted. She finds herself involving innocent neighbors, implicating herself in the mysterious murder of her predecessor, and playing numerous roles with the men she meets. Though ostensibly in the employ of Folker we soon learn that she too has her own personal reasons for finding and assembling all three pieces of the highly sought after check.

Revealing anything further of this densely packed story would rob any reader of the full pleasure of its unusual, truly original story. It's odd and fantastical like her first novel The So Blue Marble (1940) which had an element of the supernatural. It's suspenseful as any Hitchcock movie and deftly constructed. And above all, it's intelligently written with a cast of original characters led by the strong-willed, complicated and realistically flawed Lizanne.

In only her second outing Hughes proved herself to be a contender in crime fiction with the promise of great things to come. She would more than live up to her promise in the even dozen books that followed over the next two decades.

Dorothy B Hughes' Crime Novels
The So Blue Marble (1940)
The Cross-Eyed Bear (1940)
The Bamboo Blonde (1941)
The Fallen Sparrow (1942)
The Blackbirder (1943)
The Delicate Ape (1944)
Johnnie (1944)
Dread Journey (1945)
Ride the Pink Horse (1946)
The Scarlet Imperial (1946)
In a Lonely Place (1947)
The Candy Kid (1950)
The Davidian Report (1952)
The Expendable Man (1963)

Friday, August 24, 2012

FFB: Fair Murder - Nicholas Brady


U.S. edition with a title change
(Henry Holt & Co., 1933)
 Reverend Ebenezer Buckle solves his second case in this detective novel that shares a lot with the weird menace pulps of the 1930s American newsstands. Buckle is a lively amateur sleuth who reminds me of Dr. Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale. He's a brilliant man with lots of knowledge of criminal behavior, is well read in psychology and is an avid amateur botanist and gardener. In fact it is usually while doing some gardening task or examining a certain species of flower that he gets his "Eureka!" moment and all the pieces of the puzzling crime fall into place.

This is considered one of the most outlandish and gruesome of the Brady novels all of which tend to incorporate the bizarre. A murder is committed at the freak show midway of a traveling carnival. Sandra, the fat lady, is found stabbed in the neck in a tent surrounded by muddy ground. No footprints anywhere outside the tent or near her body indicating a possible assailant and the only approach seemed to be by someone on his knees stabbing upward. But how the murderer got into the tent is a mystery. One of the freaks in the sideshow is considered as a primary suspect because of his skill in throwing knives -- with his teeth since he has no arms! This is one Harry Stephen Keeler might have written.

Also worth mentioning is the seemingly miraculous transformation of the previously shapely Martha into the immensely fat Sandra. How and why did that happen? The unveiling of the culprit and the reasons for Sandra's transformation are part of the horrifying elements of what is definitely a nightmarish crime novel. I was reminded of The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck, a science fiction/horror novel by American writer Alexander Laing.

I have been lucky to find three of the five books John V. Turner wrote as "Nicholas Brady." Only two were published in the US and the remaining three were available only in UK editions. Strangely I have found all of my copies in the UK editions. Currently, there are no copies of this book for sale anywhere that I could find. You might try interlibrary loan. I have previously reviewed The House of Strange Guests last year. For more on Ebenezer Buckle visit this page from an excellent website devoted to clerical mysteries.

The Rev. Ebenezer Buckle series
The House of Strange Guests (1932)
Fair Murder (US title: The Carnival Murder) (1933)
Week-end Murder (1933)
Ebenezer Investigates (1934)
Coupons for Death (1944)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Premium Insurance

Another one of those serendipitous discoveries I had while trawling the seas of this great big digital ocean. Below you will find a review by John Chipman Farrar, editor of The Bookman, for Agatha Christie's first novel.  Farrar apparently read ...Roger Ackroyd before reading this one.

I like thinking of a book collection as "insurance against the boredom of old age" -- especially a collection of detective novels.  I think I'm going to steal his phrase.

This issue of The Bookman is dated March 1927, one year after the book was re-issued by Dodd Mead, Christie's U.S. publisher.  The book was originally released in the U.S. in 1920 by John Lane who she dropped in favor of Dodd Mead in 1921. The company remained her U.S. publisher until she died in 1976.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

COOL FLICKS: Tiger Bay (1959)

It's the story of a girl, a gun and a killer. The girl wants the gun, the killer wants the girl and his gun, and the police want all three. What makes this movie different than other typical noir trios is that the girl this time is literally a girl. That's right. She's twelve years old. Like most girls she falls for the killer, but it's strictly platonic. She knows the guy is good at heart, she's seen him that way. She'll do anything to protect him. Even --gasp-- lie. And in some ways this relationship is much deeper and purer than any of those other girl meets killer tales in crime drama cinema.


When J. Lee Thompson was looking for the child actor to play the lead role in Tiger Bay he was first only looking for boys. But when John Mills came to audition for the role of the police superintendent he brought along his young daughter Hayley whose tomboyish looks and wild antics made Thompson think of a different angle. There was no reason that the part had to be a boy. He had her read for the part and she duly impressed the director with her antics and freshness. No matter that she was imitating TV ads- the character was immediately changed to a girl with Hayley Mills in the role.

Mills made her screen debut aside her father John Mills, and German actor Horst Buchholz, also making a debut of sorts in his first English speaking role. The pairing of Hayley and Horst makes for a scintillating chemistry and it is largely due to these two actors that Tiger Bay remains one of the more remarkable films in the crime and thriller genre.

There have been films prior to this one in which children are eyewitnesses to a crime, notably The Window (1949), but I am almost positive that this is the first in which a child witnesses a crime, covets the murder weapon, and then befriends the killer. The story is fairly simple yet compactly told with strong visuals that emphasize the subtle social conscience of the piece. Spying and lying are recurrent themes that Thompson, along with screenwriters Shelley Smith and John Hawksworth, expresses in some imaginative shots focussing on Gillie's covert antics and deceitful ways.


Gillie (Hayley Mills) is a tomboy ostracized by the local boys who play violent games with cap guns. She wants to be included but she can't because he doesn't have a gun. "But I've got a bomb!" she brags referring to a device that sets off caps when it's thrown to the ground. She's knocked to the ground herself and the "bomb" stolen from her. A fight ensues between Gillie and two boys. Just when things look like they're going to get very out of hand an older boy breaks up the fight and gets the bullies to return Gillie her bomb. A passing stranger (Horst Buchholz) - an itinerant sailor on his way to his girlfriend's house - needs help finding an address. Turns out it the address happens to be the very building where Gillie lives and she points it out to him.


This opening sequence sets the stage for the relationship that quickly develops over the course of the movie. Gillie already intrigued by this sailor who seems to be a decent chap will see him in a new light shortly after meeting him when a violent argument attracts her attention. She sneaks upstairs, peers through the letter slot in the front door of a neighbor's apartment and witnesses a terrible row between the sailor and a woman - who must be his girlfriend.


The row ends with several gunshots and the woman on the floor. Gillie continues watching as the sailor leaves the apartment with the gun, then hides it behind a radiator in the hallway. Here's her chance to outdo the boys with mere cap guns. She eyes the gun like a pirate's hidden treasure and ever so slowly extracts it from hits hiding place. Carefully, tenderly she holds it in her hand and then the door bursts open again. The sailor looks for the gun and it's gone. He looks up and sees Gillie.


She looks at him defiantly. Then realizes the stupid thing she's just been caught doing.


There's a chase sequence with some eye catching high camera angles and clever maneuvering on Gillie's part to escape her pursuer. Luckily, for Gillie someone happens to be coming up the stairs as the sailor tries coming down. She manages to get in her home with the gun which she stows away in a hiding place.

The gun is Gillie's key to being ultra cool. She even sneaks it under her choir robes and shows it off to her pal Dai during a church service. She's better than a boy. She's a girl with a real gun. But Branik, the sailor, is hot on her trail and has followed her to the church determined to get his gun and keep her quiet. Their meeting in the choir loft will change everything between them. In a matter of minutes Gillie goes from power mad, wannbe tough girl with a gun to frightened kid to compassionate friend. It shouldn't really work, but it does. It's a remarkable scene with Buchholz breaking down in utter helplessness and turning to a statue of the Virgin Mary as he prays for guidance to help him out of his dilemma. There's Gillie watching him fascinated, puzzled and ultimately moved by his sincerity and remorse. It's this moment that helps create the bond that ties them together for the remainder of the movie. Even with the cutesy storybook pact they make to sail the seven seas together they end up creating a profound relationship that almost transcends casual friendship and approaches pure love.

Like all couples on the run Gillie and Branik will have their romantic idyll, a separation, a series of captures and escapes, a test of loyalty and a final parting. All the while Supt. Graham (John Mills) is trying to get Gillie to recognize that lies do more harm than good. A race against the clock finds Gillie in the hot seat as she tries to spin lie after lie, draw out an already agonizing near third degree, hoping against hope that her dalliance and subterfuge will allow enough time to pass and enable her sailor friend to escape on a ship headed for Argentina.

Dr. Das (Marne Maitland) reveals that Branko's girlfriend was not so faithful.
There are fine supporting performances from a handful of excellent British character actors who all made their mark in crime and horror films. Hammer Horror contract player Marne Maitland (The Reptile, Stranglers of Bombay, Terror of the Tongs, etc.) is Dr. Das, Branik's landlord. He has a brief yet telling scene with Buchholz (with whom he will later appear in Nine Hours to Rama) that provides some crucial information about Branik's relationship with his cheating girlfriend. Anthony Dawson, best known as the hapless Swan in Dial M for Murder and for being the hands and voice of Blofeld in two Bond films, plays Barclay -- the married man who was housing and clothing Branik's girl. Even the role of Gillie's mother is given to an actress from Crime Cinema Hall of Fame. She is played by veteran actress Megs Jenkins who will always be remembered as the plump, slyly witty Nurse Woods in Green for Danger.

Barclay (Anthony Dawson, center) reluctantly admits his secret life to Supt Graham (John Mills, right)
Mrs Phillips (Megs Jenkins, center) wishes her daughter would just tell the truth.

Here is a brief section of the eyewitness murder sequence. The entire film is available from a variety of online film sites. A retail DVD of Tiger Bay exists only in Region 2 from Image Entertainment and is of exceptional quality. Sadly, there is no Region 1 DVD that I could find for sale.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

LEFT INSIDE: Cartoon Collection

A mini gallery of some of the crime and mystery related cartoons I've collected over the years.  These haven't really been left inside a book, I just happen to keep them in the same box with all that ephemera and came across them the other day.

Here are four of the better ones that are still in good shape.  If it's hard to read the captions, just click on the image for original size.


Friday, August 17, 2012

FFB: The Secret of Sarek - Maurice LeBlanc


Frontispiece for the US 1st edition
The Secret of Sarek (US edition 1920) is one of LeBlanc’s strangest books in the Arsene Lupin series. Essentially, the complex plot revolves around Veronique, a young woman who travels to an isolated island off the coast of Brittany in search of her kidnapped son. She soon discovers that a terrible prophecy involving herself is about to come true. The island’s inhabitants believe that when the so called "Thirty Coffins" (some stones that line the island) have claimed their thirty victims and four women have been crucified from some oak trees then the God’s Stone will be revealed – a stone which gives life and death.

In an abandoned shack Veronique finds a dead man with his hand chopped off and a bizarre drawing of four women crucified – one of the women bearing her own face. She begins to think that some supernatural force is at work. Plenty of adventure and some legitimate thrills keep the pace moving until the woman’s former husband thought to be dead turns up alive. The villain then discovers an old Druid man who claims to be guardian of the God’s Stone. It is, in fact, Lupin in one of his many disguises. From here on the book takes on a strange mocking tone and the whole thing dissolves into what is obviously LeBlanc’s derision for Rohmeresque style thrillers.

Critics have often commented that LeBlanc’s Lupin books border on the burlesque. In the case of this book that assessment is more than apt.

The Secret of Sarek was originally published under the French title L'île aux trente cercueils (The Island of Thirty Coffins). For a long time it was one of the most difficult LeBlanc titles to find in the used book trade as there were only hardcovers of the Macaulay first edition, scattered reprints from A.L. Burt, and no paperback copies. Additionally, those hardcovers were all priced relatively high. But now there are umpteen editions offered from POD "publishers" thanks to the expiration of its American copyright making the book an easy target for biblio-pirates looking to make a quick buck off a dead writer's work. The book may also be available free online or in some eBook format but I never bother checking for those.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Sexton Women – Richard Neely

Viet Nam vet Johnny Sexton returns home to ask his rich father Tom for $30,000 in a movie making deal he and his friend Jim Ralston are planning. During the visit Johnny falls for his father's very young , very sexy wife Lucille. When Dad Sexton reports his lawyer has discovered that Ralston and his other movie investors are in the porn biz he vetoes the loan. Relations between Johnny and his father were not that good to begin with and now the son is pissed off. His anger gets the better of him. He vows to get not only his $30,000 but even more money.

Like any noir anti-hero he, of course, confides in his object of desire who wickedly encourages him. An arson plot is rigged at an old house where his father lived with his first wife – Johnny's mother. When the wreckage is bulldozed by Tom's own construction company they turn up a skeleton. But it's much smaller than Tom Sexton's body, has all teeth intact (Tom wore dentures) and the skull is bashed in. Dental records prove it to be Tom's first wife. Uh-oh. What happened to Dad's body? And who killed Mom?

This is a deviously constructed book, as fast paced as any paperback original from the 1950s on which it is modeled. The Sexton Women (1972) matches those crime novels in every aspect and to a certain extent goes further than books by Day Keene, Bruno Fischer and Gil Brewer in terms of sleazy sex and amoral behavior.

Neely is an underappreciated writer of nasty noir done up 1970s style. He is probably best known for The Plastic Nightmare turned into a movie, the pulpy fun thriller directed by Wolfgang Petersen retitled Shattered and starring Tom Berenger, Greta Scacchi and Bob Hoskins. His other novels well known among discerning readers include The Japanese Mistress and The Walter Syndrome.

This little known book among Neely's fifteen titles is one of those twisty roller coasters with a vertigo inducing plot and a genuine noir atmosphere in which the innocent are punished and the guilty get their just desserts. It's hard to sympathize with Johnny, a model of human baseness -- greedy, selfish, vengeful, sex-crazed. You can't help but read on envisioning a suitably nasty end for the guy after all his scheming. And when that end comes there's also a delicious irony thrown in for good measure.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

LEFT INSIDE: Greetings from Snow Hill!

Fittingly, this post card sent from some dreamy autumnal getaway called "Snow Hill" was found inside a copy of The Hill of Dreams by Arthur Machen. The message below is posted at full size. You can click on the address side to enlarge the second photo.


Here's the addressed side. You'll see that the card is postmarked Morristown, NJ. I've been there decades ago when I visited one of my college roommates. It's not exactly the kind of place I'd choose for a vacation. Poor Jean and her illness.  Hope she recovered to enjoy that 1952 autumn in New Jersey. Note also the original name typed as the addressee and then the cross-out with a completely different name handwritten.  I have no clue who Mary Taylor is or was, but as for Miss Ripley Mastin...


Believe it or not, she is a somewhat famous person! Better known to the literary cognoscenti as Florence Ripley Mastin, she was an award-winning poet.


Here's a brief biography I found at the Syracuse University Library website that even mentions her home, Four Gables. Though the blurb wrongly names the town as Pierpont when it should be Piermont.


Florence Ripley Mastin (1886-1968) was an award-winning American poet.

Mastin was born in Wayne, Pennsylvania but her family moved while she was still very young to "Four Gables," the Mastin family home in Pierpont, New York. Mastin graduated from Tappan Zee High School in 1903 (she wrote the class poem) and then from Barnard College

Her poetry career began at the age of 14 when the Nyack Star published her poem, "The Hudson River." Her first book, Green Leaves, was published in 1918. She taught poetry for 38 years at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, where her students included Bernard Malamud and others. Many of her former students have publicly expressed their appreciation for her teaching and her influence on their work.

Ms. Mastin was a member of the Poetry Society of America and winner of many poetry awards. Her work was published in the New York Times, the Saturday Review and other national periodicals. In 1959 the New York State Commission on Historic Observances selected her poem, "Freedom's Dream" as the official "Year of History" poem for the 350th Hudson-Champlain Celebration, and this poem also won the Freedom Foundation Medal that year.

Friday, August 10, 2012

FFB: The Body Vanishes - Jacquemard-Sénécal

While the first book the French writing team calling themselves Jacquemard-Sénécal wrote was in fact the second book they had published (Le onzième petit nègre, 1977), their first published book was apparently considered to be more conventional by the publisher though no less ingenious. It won for them the coveted Prix du Quai des Orfevres, the French mystery writer's prize, in 1977. While The Eleventh Little Indian (as it was published in the US) was considered "too daring" I think Le Crime de la Maison Grün or, as the English publishers redubbed the book, The Body Vanishes (1976) is far more daring. The trickery employed in this debut (yet really their second book) and the gasp inducing solution surpass what the two men did in their Agatha Christie tribute.

A drowned woman's body disappears from a river bank. It reappears in the locked and burglarized workshop of Wotan Grün, an antiquarian bookseller. The only thing noted to be missing is a rare 15th century incunabulum, the envy of several collectors and the bookseller's competitors. The woman is soon identified as the lover of Wotan's son Denis, the morose and cynical black sheep of the Grün household. As the intriguing investigation proceeds the entire household is enveloped in a world of treachery and thievery, murder attempts and suicide, and -- believe it or not -- the search for an alchemy formula for turning lead into gold.

The book introduces their series character Lancelot Dullac (cute name, huh?), a police detective who works alongside another policeman named Holz. The detection in this book is mostly of the Q&A type, though there are several instances of Golden Age type originality and cleverness in the few scenes that involve physical evidence. Most notable among those portions is a second impossible murder disguised as a suicide that involves some rigged machinery that John Dickson Carr might have dreamed up.

Once again on display a plethora of plot devices and motifs found in the work of their idol Agatha Christie. There are allusions to Evil Under the Sun, Peril at End House, Murder at the Vicarage and the many stage related mysteries she wrote. The two writers come from a theater background and once again dig into their trunk of stage tricks and illusions to bamboozle the reader with dazzling misdirection. There is even some dizzying business with rifles and bullets that reminded me of Erle Stanley Gardner's gun crazy plots. All in all plenty of wizardry and plot machinations to appeal to any fan of the puzzle driven detective novel.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Drawing on the Past #7: STANLEY L WOOD

Work: Dr. Nikola by Guy Boothby
Publisher: Ward Lock, 1902 - a later edition
Artist: Stanley L. Wood (1867 - 1928)

To me Stanley Wood will always be remembered for the iconic portrait of Dr. Nikola. I know you've seen it. It's what I use as my avatar over there to the right in the "About Me" section on this blog.  What surprised me was all the other work he is better known for.

Born in Monmouthshire in 1867 Wood traveled with his father a cement manufacturer to America in 1878. The family settled on a ranch in the Ute Indians territory of what would soon become Kansas. There is an amusing anecdote about how Wood's mother tried to ward off the Ute Indians when he husband died.  You can read it here. Soon after her husband's death, Charlotte Wood took her children back to England.  It was in London that Stanley became an illustrator for newspapers and magazines.

In 1888 he was sent to South Dakota by The Illustrated London News where he was better able to study the geography to give his work more authenticity.  Three examples of his western art can be found here, here, and here. From an art gallery website I learned this about Wood:

Book dealer Jefferson Chenoweth Dykes ...wrote in Fifty Great Western Illustrators that “no better horse artist ever lived than Stanley L. Wood - there was more action in a Stanley Wood illustration than in the story itself".

Later in his career Wood would also become well known for his military illustrations.  There are several websites devoted to displaying his work in this genre.  You can visit one of the best ones here.

Below are some excellent examples of Wood's work taken form Dr. Nikola (originally published in 1896), the second novel about one of the first master criminals in all of fiction. As always, be sure to click on each picture in the tables to enlarge for full appreciation.







Friday, August 3, 2012

FFB: The Gold of Malabar - Berkely Mather

Prison escape! Hidden treasure! A secret map! Villains in pursuit!

Sound like some kind of Indiana Jones movie?  You'd not be far off. These are the plot elements of Berkely Mather's third ripping yarn, The Gold of Malabar (1967), once again set in India but this time dealing with a legendary lost treasure of gold ingots dating back to 1941 in the days of Japanese occupation in the East Indies.

While serving time in a prison in Goa Mike O'Reilly strikes up an acquaintance with a dying old Dutch prisoner named Rokkjer. He entrusts to O'Reilly a gold medal and tells him to take it to a Buddhist monk named Nu Pau in Bombay. He is convinced that O'Reilly will be able to escape and get this done.  when he meets the monk he is to tell him, "Rokkjer said to keep faith." He makes O'Reilly swear to do this and just as he is about to die manages to get out the following cryptic last words: "Pythagoras, northeast, and the word is try, try, try..."  Rokkjer's body is buried in the cemetery conveniently located just outside the prison walls near an even more convenient cliff.  O'Reilly is on burial duty.  Guess who manages to dig a grave, bury the corpse and take flight by bravely and stupidly  jumping off the cliff in the ocean?  O'Reilly survives the jump, a barrage of bullets, and near drowning. Luckily he is rescued by some peasant fisherman and the boat he ends up in just happens to be headed for Bombay.  His luck is soon to run out though his adventure leds him into a treacherous world of greedy looters all looking for the map that will lead to the hidden cache of gold

UK 1st edition ( Collins, 1967)
Once again Mather provides a medley of eccentric outsiders and crooks. Among O'Reilly's allies are Claudette, a lovely brothel madame and Anne Haytor, a sharp witted nurse, and a variety of fishermen, tradesmen and beggars. O'Reilly accidentally becomes a sort of male incarnation of Blanche DuBois as he comes to depend on the many kindnesses from strangers. As for the numerous villains there is a duplicitous ex-pat British colonel, a corrupt Indian police inspector, and a sinister Arab and his gang of goons who subject our hero to a gruesome torture sequence. Above all there is the brilliant character of Nu Pau, the defrocked Buddhist monk who holds the key to location of the map, and has more than a few secrets of his own. The oddball pairing of O'Reilly and Nu Pau make this adventure thriller at times seem like one of those unevenly matched "buddy pictures." They work marvelously well together -- both as adversaries and collaborators.

O'Reilly at first seems like he wants the partnership but the danger escalates and he risks his life multiple times, endures horrible injuries, and is finally burdened with a mortally wounded Nu Pau. He begins to think all would be easier if he dumped Nu Pau in a village and went for the treasure by himself. The story takes on the essence of Traven's Treasure of the Sierra Madre as everyone seems to want the all the gold for himself. Will O'Reilly get his hands on the gold? Or will his conscience get the better of him?  The ending is something of a surprise and was more than satisfying.

Entertaining, educational (more insight into Indian history and culture) and enlivening The Gold of Malabar is one of the best real adventure novels from the late 1960s.  I enthusiastically recommend this one to all devotees of the rousing ripping yarn.

Previously reviewed on this blog The Pass Beyond the Kashmir also by Berkely Mather.