Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Captain Must Die

Couldn't sleep last night and ended up grabbing The Captain Must Die for a reread. It never lets m down. Here's what I wrote about it earlier slightly expanded.

The Captain Must Die

I've seen a few recent references to one of the great overlooked Gold Medal novels, The Captain Must Die by Robert Colby. If you want a feel for the real Fifties in the form of a grim caper novel, this is your book. It's tight, deftly plotted and one of those hardboiled novels that is genuinely tough without showing off.

There's a sweaty post-war anger on every page. For some the war was fading into memory. WW11 had ended but Korea came along all too soon. But for these men the war wouldn't end until they dealt with the captain they hatde. This could easily have been a John D. MacDonald but JDM wouldn't have infused it with quite so much rage and nihilism. I really recommend it.

Bob Colby was a nice guy who struggled through a four decade run as a free-lancer. He never had the hit he deserved. He had a bittersweet sense of the failed man in a society that despises failure, the man always looking for the long chance who never seems to understand--or even anticipate--that the long chance will do him in. Like JDM he wrote middle-class noir, the sort of thing Claude Chabrol does in his best crime movies.

I got to know him in the last six or seven years of his life. He'd spent his early life in radio and tv and you could tell that by the smooth, almost courtly way he did business. They were gentlemen back then. His glory days were with Richard Carroll at Gold Medal. Apparently Knox Burger didn't like his stuff and he was soon shuffled off to places like Monarch.

He's worth looking up. If you read nothing else, make it The Captain. It's damned fine book. He had a journalist's eye for his times. This was especially true in the novels he set in Hollywood. Captain is his masterpiece.


Fred Blosser said...

Ed, do you know the story (if there is one) behind Colby, Rabe, Albert, and Wormser returning to Gold Medal in the early '70s after absences from the GM list? Rabe and Wormser contributed mafia novels that GM pitched with the cover blurb "in the tradition of the Godfather." Did they or their agents return on their own after Burger departed ... did Burger's successor seek them out ...?

pattinase (abbott) said...

Can I use this on Friday? Patti

August West said...

A Giant Novel. Robert Colby wrote many fine novels, but this one is unarguably his best. Also one of the best ever published by Gold Medal.