Mostly my musings on things vintage hardboiled and noir, literary and filmic and other things that take my fancy. Down these mean streets this man must go...

Friday 3 August 2012

Thieves Fall Out by Cameron Kay (Gold Medal 311) (1953)

Pete Wells is an American in a tight spot in post-war Cairo. Relieved of his wallet and bereft of cash after a night on the town, he willingly falls in with a dissolute Englishman called Hastings and Helene, Comtesse de Rastignac, a larcenous pair who offer him a means of financial resolution from his imperilled situation. They persuade Pete to act as a courier for a valuable relic which he must collect from Luxor and return to them in Cairo, from where it can be spirited out of the country. However, a persistent and seemingly corrupt local police officer is following Pete, who soon discovers that obtaining the valuable relic and returning it to his current employers may be more difficult and dangerous than he could have imagined; especially after he falls for a beautiful blonde German singer called Anna whose connections to the country's ruler could precipitate even greater uproar and bloodshed.

What appears to be a formulaic if colourful and adventuresome Gold Medal paperback original is lent added spice by the fact that 'Cameron Kay' was a pseudonym for Gore Vidal. This means that the writing is both smoother and more polished, but also less gritty and hardboiled, than many of the publisher's usual offerings and lends the book greater interest than its rather routine subject matter might otherwise suggest.

Unsurprisingly, given his subsequent novels, the young Vidal seems to have more interest in the psychology, corruption and occasional lustful inclinations of the supporting cast than in the plotting or pace, with many of characters seeming more the kind of archetypes readily found in films of the day like Casablanca and Sirocco (for example, in terms of appearance and character Hastings appears to have been strongly based on Sydney Greenstreet). Wells himself is essentially a two-fisted caricature stumbling and fighting his way through a narrative of double-crosses and deceit and the third person narrative means that there is little sense of getting inside his head or, indeed, the story.

So, although this moves at a rapid clip and features some often interesting incidental detail - particularly sexual (as well a climax involving a revolt in Cairo that unwittingly possesses greater contemporary resonance), were it not for the interesting provenance this would otherwise be a competent if throwaway example of its publisher's prodigious and often more impressive output.


AFTERWORD: Apparently, Gore Vidal refused to sanction any reprints of this book. This means that this is the only US edition and, along with its even more uncommon UK Red Seal edition (No.58, 1956), is seemingly tough to find - especially in shape. Consequently, given its scarcity and desirability, it commands rather high prices from online dealers who are aware of the identity of the author hiding behind the pseudonym.

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