|Vintage Pulp||Jul 24 2022|
There's no bottom in sight.
In High Dive Frank O'Rourke uses one of the time-honored tropes of mid-century crime fiction—the escape to Mexico. This 1955 Bantam edition has cover art which we like very much. It successfully captures the mysterious mood of the story, which centers around an unnamed Pacific resort town. That town is obviously Acapulco, a fact made clear from the book's cliff diving scenes. The fun begins when an insurance investigator named Jim Bradley rents a house in order to lie in wait for armored car robbers he feels will turn up there with the stolen loot sooner or later. He whiles away the months interacting with a menagerie of secretive expats, sultry women, and his true and faithful love Maria.
The most interesting aspect of High Dive is its style. It's lightly Hemingway flavored, making for a curious hybrid—part mystery, part lost generation. In addition to the prose, Hemingwayesque elements include: a sexually dissatisfied wife and a sad, cuckolded husband acting out their tragic pantomime of a marriage; numerous meet-ups for cocktails and generally constant drinking; an atmosphere of Americans existing but not thriving in a foreign land; and a local spectacle—not bullfighting, but cliff diving—that intermittently shifts from background to foreground in order to frame certain plot points. Yeah, it's pretty good, this book.
O'Rourke, who also published as Kevin Connor, Frank O'Malley, and Patrick O'Malley, mostly wrote westerns, and perhaps that's why he seems so comfortable in this Mexican space. For some readers it may take too long—about half the novel—for the protagonist to make actual headway solving the case of the armored car loot. His break finally comes when the wife of one of the robbers turns up in town. Or at least that's what he thinks. But is she really involved, and is her husband really one of the crooks? Perhaps, but by then the missing money isn't the attraction of the story. It's the disparate personal narratives, which are resolved as appropriate—triumph, tragedy, irony, and all the rest. High Dive was a pleasant surprise.
MexicoAcapulcoBantam BooksFrank O'RourkeKevin ConnorFrank O'MalleyPatrick O'Malleycover artliterature