Wednesday, July 4, 2012

IN BRIEF: Free Ride - James M Fox

Leo Maxwell, an ex-boxer, is being transported via train to Phoenix where he will be tried for manslaughter.  Two cops, Jerry Long and Chuck Conley, are in charge of his safety.  En route they learn that Maxwell managed to win over $20,000 on a long shot bet at a horse racetrack.  Even before the train leaves the station an attempt is made on Maxwell's life.  Sgt. Long handles the three goons with the usual pulp fiction style fistfight.  Turns out they are members of a Sicilian syndicate.  Long and Conley try to get Maxwell to confess the racetrack winnings were a gang related con game. Maxwell refuses to cooperate. Everyone on board seems to know that Long and Conley are cops.  Maxwell in handcuffs seems to be the give away.  As the train continues its journey from New Orleans through several Texas towns onto Arizona more attempts are made on Maxwells' life.

Like the best of the paperback originals that specialize in crime we get the usual ingredients for a quick read. Fistfights and action galore. Lots of James Hadley Chase style ersatz American dialog meaning it's littered with wiseacre period slang that no real person ever used. A myriad of suspicious characters make trouble for the two cops.

Among those characters are:

Homer Finch -- a salesman on his way to a cosmetic convention.  He spends much of his telling stupid jokes and playing pranks with novelty gag items.

Thomas Carpenter -- older gent way too interested in the police business and a bit too interested in other passengers like...

Gloria Starr -- burlesque stripper, con woman who gets Carpenter to pay for her meal in the dining car when she "forgets" her purse

Carol Wallace -- claims to be Maxwell's girlfriend. Attempts to bribe Long with sexual favors in order to free Maxwell. 

Long sends orders to headquarters to run criminal background checks on all these passengers and a few more. He suspects that one or more may be involved in a plot to either free Maxwell and get him off the train or to kill him before the train arrives in Phoenix.  It turns out he's right, but just who is involved is rather hard to figure out. And there are indeed a few surprises before this action tale comes to its violent finale with plenty of fists and bullets flying.


  1. Love the back cover: "Her curves were insured for $50,000!" and "Her angles were worth a million!" :-)

  2. Gloria, the stripper, really does have her body insured for $50,000. I guess Fox probably thought it was a hysterical bit. She's portrayed as not the brightest bulb in the chandelier. Little would he know that someone like Mary Hart (formerly of "Entertainment Tonight") would insure her legs for $1,000,000. Roddy McDowall did the same thing for his face when he was making all those Planet of the Apes movies and endured hours and hours of grueling make-up on a daily basis.

  3. Love books set on a train. Would try searching for this one.