Crime capers of the rich and infamous.
David Dodge's 1956 novel Angel's Ransom takes place in the principality of Monaco, a part of the world the author knew well, along with the rest of the French Riviera. Authentic local details distinguish this kidnapping and ransom thriller, as a group of crooks snatch a yacht called Angel and try to shake down its flamboyantly wealthy owner for 3.5 million francs. Unwillingly along for the ride are the boat's captain, a beautiful guest, a playboy and his distinguished wife, and a Paris showgirl dragged into the plot to assist the criminals. The crooks force the yacht owner to write a bank draft, send a man to Geneva with it, then take the boat out to sea to await word that the draft has been honored. If anything goes wrong, everyone gets to be fish food.
Dodge is a great writer, and this one is good too, though slightly less perfect coming from the master of international intrigue, due to the simple reason that setting most of the action on a boat confines his normally free ranging fiction. But the book is still well written and masterfully paced, with an array of diverse characters to sustain reader interest. If you're going to read any Dodge novel set in this diamonds and champagne milieu we recommend To Catch a Thief—of course—over Angel's Ransom, but you could do far worse than to read any of his international thrillers, including this one. We'll be returning to Monaco with Dodge. He wrote an entire travel book about the French Riviera, ironically titled (because he was a budget traveller), The Rich Man's Guide to the Riviera. We have it and will report back later.
David Dodge explains how to travel like a boss even if you aren't.
Is The Poor Man's Guide to Europe pulp? Think of it as pulp adjacent. David Dodge was one of the better crafters of crime and adventure fiction during the mid-century, so when we learned that he had written travel guides we knew they were must-reads. His novels were often outward looking. To Catch a Thief was set on the French Riviera; Plunder of the Sun, Mexico; The Long Escape, several Latin American countries including Chile and Peru. And Dodge's first travel book How Green Was My Father dealt with Mexico and Guatemala.
But Europe is the subject here, and accompanied by Irv Koons illustrations, Dodge mines nuggets of valuable info from his continental experience for Americans who cross the pond. As this is a book about getting by on a budget, much of the info has to do with currency trading, a reduced concern these days, but the ins and outs of swapping cash make for some interesting insights into the various countries involved, and Dodge is clever at weaving travel anecdotes while keeping his narrative money focused. Example:
Night was falling with that dull thudding sound it makes when you don't know where you are going to sleep. By bribing the concierge I got three beds at a “first class” hotel across the street. It was terrible—overcrowded, noisy, and operated according to the old army slogan: Don't you know there's a war on, buddy? I got out early the next morning, walked three blocks to the center of town toward the Via Vittorio Veneto, and landed two bedrooms, a sitting room, a bathroom, and a balcony in a clean, old-fashioned, superbly operated Italian albergo with a wonderful cook and waiters who caught dropped napkins before they hit the floor. The patrono, who spoke six languages, took Elva and me to the opera as his guests three nights later while his wife babysat with Kendal, and the overall charge was 8,500 lira a day, about $13, all meals and table wine included.
And that's pretty much what travel is about for us—seizing victory from the jaws of defeat. Other anecdotes had us searching for confirmation, they were so hard to believe. For example, was it really the trend in 1953 for some women on the Cotê d'Azur to wear a cache-sexe? Dodge says it was. It's central to a tale about his friend crashing a rental car into a palm tree after seeing two cache-sexe clad women on the Croisette in Cannes. In case you don't know, this cache-sexe was a thong bottom and stick-on breast coverings that made women look almost nude when viewed from the rear.
We have topless and occasionally unclothed women on our beach, but still, we'd give a lot to see something like what Dodge describes, considering these women were not on the beach, but ambling down the street. We once saw two women in bikinis who had wandered several blocks from our beach to ponder the outside of the local cathedral, and that visual incongruity stuck with us for weeks. The cache-sexe must have absolutely scandalized people. And thrilled them too. Maybe that's why Dodge wrote a sequel guidebook focused entirely on the south of France with the tongue-in-cheek title The Rich Man's Guide to the Riviera. We bought that one too. Stay tuned.
Ancient Zapotec treasures bring out the tomb raider in everyone.
This poster was made for the 1953 adventure Plunder of the Sun, a title which may sound familiar from David Dodge's 1951 novel. The movie starred Glenn Ford, Patricia Medina, and Diana Lynn, and follows the basic gold hunting theme of the book, but with numerous plot details altered, and the exotic locations around Latin America—particularly Peru—condensed to only Havana and the province of Oaxaca, Mexico. The Havana scenes were shot in Mexico, but the Oaxaca scenes were indeed shot in southeastern Mexico, with location work at the Zapotec ruins in Monte Alban. You can practically hear the head honcho at Wayne-Fellows Productions saying, “I love this book, but we've got to make it cheaper. Why go all the way to Peru when there are perfectly good ruins in Mexico?” The Oaxaca locations are great, though, and extensively used, which really helps the film. Are we saying Plunder of the Sun is good? Well, no we aren't. It doesn't have the depth needed to earn a place in the top ranks of vintage cinema, but it's well shot, and its proto-Indiana Jones feel is interesting enough to keep you watching. We have a few promo images below, and you can learn more about the plot by checking our write-up on the novel here.
No, it's not a Halloween costume, gringo. We don't have that here. We have Day of the Dead. Wanna find out how it works?
The Long Escape was originally published 1948, and was the first of a trio of books written by David Dodge starring his investigator character Al Colby. The cover art by Robert Stanley depicts a scene that actually occurs in the narrative, but the book is not a western style adventure. It's a missing person mystery that starts in California, passes through Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, and finally settles in Chile. The man under the poncho is a sort of Chilean vaquero who loves horses and guns, and is a generally hostile guy. But Colby is not one to be easily bested. He may be a gringo, but he's fluent in Spanish, as well as the ways and means of Latin America. The Long Escape is a good book. Everything we've read by Dodge so far is good. In our opinion the second Colby outing, Plunder of the Sun, is even a bit better, but you can't go wrong with this particular author. We'll continue making our way through his catalog and report back.
Basically, the way this job works is my customers phone for drugs and I have people like you deliver them. I call it Instagram.
David Dodge is one of our favorite authors. He's as solid as they get. In 1946 he jumped on the drug hysteria wagon with It Ain't Hay, and which the British imprint Corgi Books re-issued in 1953 as A Drug on the Market. The book features Dodge's tax accountant hero Walt Whitney, star of three previous books, who learns that a prospective client has made his money by sailing marijuana from Mexico to Half Moon Bay, California. This tale is notable for Dodge in that he moves away from his semi-comic comfort zone and into darker territory in which Whitney breaks all kinds of personal codes while trying to bring the kingpin to justice. Dodge comes from the generation that hated drugs but loved to get loaded on booze, so it all reads a bit ironically today, but we don't judge—maybe one day people will say what reactionaries our generation was about uncut black tar heroin. Dodge's storytelling skill is unscathed, and that's all that matters. With Dodge, you can't miss.
Legendary thief plays cat and mouse on the French Riviera.
One of our favorite fiction devices is the hero who has no idea a beautiful pest loves him. In David Dodge's To Catch a Thief the technique is used to good effect as readers are treated to a fun tale about a retired jewel thief known as Le Chat (the Cat) who'll be thrown in a French prison on general suspicion unless he catches an imitator who's robbing one percenters all over the French Riviera. Dodge is a rock solid storyteller, not the type of artisan to win literary prizes, but one to keep you turning pages at a rapid clip, and he's great here as usual. The art on this 1953 edition from Dell Publications is by Mike Ludlow, and even though the bikini clad cover figure for some reason is depicted on a piney lakeshore rather than the beach at Cannes, the image is still a nice match for Dodge's urbane, sun-drenched, Mediterranean mystery. Highly recommended.
Huh? What do you mean you tipped him enough earlier to cover our whole stay?
David Dodge was a very deft writer. When he died in 1974 The Last Match hadn't been published, but Hard Case Crime put it out in 2006, and it falls into the same category as his To Catch a Thief, as well as jet-set grifter novels by other authors. For us this was tremendously entertaining. Dodge takes his protagonist to Spain, southern France, Tangier, Central America, Brazil, and other exotic locales, weaving in foreign vocabulary and mixing it all up to reflect his character's life as an international rolling stone. Like when he explains offhand that the Brazilian soft drink guaraná is fizzy like a Portuguese vinho verde, but sweet, and perfect for mixing with cachaça. Little things like that give the tale great flavor. And the story of an inveterate con man knocking about from country to country while stalked by a smitten aristocratic beauty (who he refers to as Nemesis) has plenty of amusements. Some say it's not Dodge at his best because it has no plot, but stories only need to entertain. Dodge, like his main character, is remembering the highlights of his life and mixing in a portion of male-oriented fantasy. We'll admit to having a weakness for the tale because we've been to most of the places mentioned, had high times drinking guaraná mixed with cachaça, and met more than one charming hustler or beauty who arrived from parts unknown to send the town reeling. But as objectively as we can manage to assess, we think The Last Match is good, lighthearted fun. Highly recommended.
Gringo adventurer goes down South American rabbit hole looking for Inca treasure.
Pulp fiction, genre fiction, crime fiction—call it what you want. Basically, none of it will ever win a Pulitzer Prize, but it can be mighty enjoyable when done just right. Plunder of the Sun is faster than fast pulp-style fiction from To Catch a Thief author David Dodge. The rough and tumble protagonist Al Colby tries to unravel the secret of an Inca quipa—an ancient numero-linguistic recording device—which may tell the location of an impossibly huge hoard of gold. The tale speeds from Santiago, Chile to Lima, Peru and into the high Andes by boat, train, and tram to a climax on the highest lake in the world.
This is a confident yarn from an author who traveled widely in the countries portrayed, and his tale avoids the cultural judgments you often find in these types of novels. His descriptions of cities, hotels, and transport are unflattering but accurate, yet his treatment of the Peruvian and Chilean villains has no whiff of condescension. They're just the villains, nothing more—smart, tough, deadly, and motivated. The book's only flaw is its late turn toward romantic matchmaking. Still, it was a very good read. It became a movie of the same name in 1953, placed in a new setting, with Glenn Ford and Diana Lynn. The art on this 1951 Dell paperback is by Robert Stanley, and as a bonus it comes in a collectible mapback edition.
Faced with this position surrender is the only option.
Here you see a pose that appears over and over in vintage paperback art—one figure looming menacingly in the foreground as a second cowers in the triangular negative space created by the first’s spread legs. This pose is so common it should have a name. We’re thinking “the alpha,” because it signifies male dominance and because of the A shape the pose makes. True, on occasion the dominator isn’t male, sometimes the unfortunate sprawled figure is depicted outside the A shaped space, and sometimes the art expresses something other than dominance, but basically the alpha (see, that just sounds right, doesn’t it?) has been used scores of times with only minor variation. You’ll notice several of these come from subsidiaries of the sleaze publisher Greenleaf Classics. It was a go-to cover style for them. We have twenty examples in all, with art by Bob Abbett, Robert Bonfils, Michel Gourdon, and others.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1937—Chamberlain Becomes Prime Minister
Arthur Neville Chamberlain, who is known today mainly for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 which conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany and was supposed to appease Adolf Hitler's imperial ambitions, becomes prime minister of Great Britain. At the time Chamberlain is the second oldest man, at age sixty-eight, to ascend to the office. Three years later he would give way to Winston Churchill.
1930—Chrysler Building Opens
In New York City, after a mere eighteen months of construction, the Chrysler Building opens to the public. At 1,046 feet, 319 meters, it is the tallest building in the world at the time, but more significantly, William Van Alen's design is a landmark in art deco that is celebrated to this day as an example of skyscraper architecture at its most elegant.
1969—Jeffrey Hunter Dies
American actor Jeffrey Hunter dies of a cerebral hemorrhage after falling down a flight of stairs and sustaining a skull fracture, a mishap precipitated by his suffering a stroke seconds earlier. Hunter played many roles, including Jesus in the 1961 film King of Kings, but is perhaps best known for portraying Captain Christopher Pike in the original Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage".
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