Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Forgotten Books: The Captain Must Die by Robert Colby

Forgotten Books: The Captain Must Die by Robert Colby

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 hated. 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 by God. 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. You will not be disappointed.


Anonymous said...

I Agree, "The Captain Must Die" was one of the best paperbacks that GM published in the 50s.

August West

Scott Cupp said...

I had several of Colby's books befoe the great book purge of 3 1/2 years ago. Wish I still had them now. Something else to look for when visiting book stores. The fun was always in the hunt.

MP said...

This sounds good. I just got it on Kindle through the Wildside Press edition.