|Vintage Pulp||Nov 13 2023|
Around the world in 180 pages (or thereabouts).
Wouldn't it be great to sail away to an exotic island, live in a hotel, and write novels? Ed Lacy was the archetypal globetrotting author, and 1963's Two Hot To Handle is a product of that lifestyle. It's two novellas joined: “Murder in Paradise,” set in Tahiti, and “The Coin of Adventure,” set on the other side of the planet in Tuscany.
“Murder in Paradise” is the tale of an American named Ray Judson and his local wife Ruita, who live reclusively on a small island, and are hired by a Hollywood studio to help scout locations for an adventure movie. Does this idea sound familiar? It should. We guess this sort of thing happened in real life enough to inspire a few novels.
Anyway, when the leading lady is murdered the police point the finger at Ruita, and Ray desperately undertakes to find the real killer. We're going to start using the shorthand term “find-the-real-killer novels” to refer to these plotlines. By day Ruita eludes the cops by hiding out on a tiny islet, and by night she ventures ashore to assist her husband and sneak in some moonlit lovin. Avoiding prison is important, but you gotta get your freak on too.
“The Coin of Adventure” is about Kent Kelly, an American adventurer in Viareggio, Italy, who learns that fascists fleeing at the end of World War II abandoned a hoard of stolen gold in a cave. He and a partner head after the loot, but death and betrayal are always uninvited passengers on such missions.
Of the two stories we liked “Murder in Paradise” a little better. Lacy, it's clear, strove to correctly portray Tahiti without resorting to travelogue or showy displays of local language. He was interested in the people. To even write a character like Ruita, who decides to work for the moviemakers to ensure that they get the details of her culture correct, shows his empathy for island folk. She's an excellent character—ambitious enough to want to influence how her people are portrayed in Hollywood, naive enough to think she can really do it. With Lacy leading the way we'll go anywhere. Tahiti? Tuscany? You bet.
French PolynesiaItalyTahitiPapeeteViareggioPaperback LibraryEd LacyLeonard ZinbergCharles Copelandcover artliterature
|Vintage Pulp||Oct 1 2010|
Silly boys. I wonder if they'd be fighting if they knew that no matter who wins I'm going to lei them both.
This cover for Ed Lacy's 1960 novel South Pacific Affair makes us suspect artist George Ziel was thinking along the same lines as us—i.e. it's interesting that he painted the island woman with two leis around her neck. Here's a fun fact: while we know several people, us included, who've come to the physical defense of women in danger, we don't know a single man who's ever fought due to romantic rivalry. We asked around. Nobody admitted to it. Is it generational? Every woman we know would stop this fight in its tracks with: “Hey! Idiots! I'm not a 24-pack of Coors! I choose, and it's neither of you!” But the cover misleads, as they sometimes do. There's no literal fight over a woman. There's a fight over a sexual betrayal, but the catalyst is years in the past and 7,000 miles away.
We've read a few Ed Lacy books, and all of them have been about crime and graft in urban settings. South Pacific Affair expands his field of interests to the classic fantasy of life in paradise. Ray Jundson is an American living on the fictional French Polynesian island of Numaga who can't see the beauty of his circumstances. He's torn between staying there, continuing to sail from island to island trading goods, and marrying his island sweetheart Ruita, or letting his wanderlust and desire for riches carry him away toward unknown solo adventures, possibly even back to the U.S. Frankly, for a man with everything he's way too jaded for realism, but you have to follow the author's lead.
We don't know if Lacy ever went to French Polynesia, but the details read as if he did. That's good, because other than travelogue, nudity, and a lot of soul searching by Ray, nothing much happens in the book until, more than halfway through, a smallpox outbreak brings on a countrywide quarantine. One captain defies the law, sails from Papeete to Numaga, and tries to offload passengers, while downplaying the severity of the disease. That's on-the-nose for 2020, don't you think? Turns out he's actually trying to jettison a group of advanced cases and Ray is one of the people fate places in a position to stop this deadly maneuver.
This is Ray's first motivated act in the entire book, but fortunately not his last, which means the final third of the story gets interesting. Too bad that newly found motivation leads him to set up a scam involving a fake Polynesian princess, credulous American tourists, and the island equivalent of pimping. It may sound farfetched, but we can tell you from personal experience: spend enough time on a tropical island and anything can seem like a good idea. South Pacific Affair isn't Lacy at his best, but for knockaround guys like us, it was pleasantly familiar. Overall, we think it's worth reading for its unusual status in the Lacy bibliography. But we offer no guarantees.