RARA-AVIS: Gold Medal: Edward S. Aarons

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 29 Aug 2002

I know there are some fans of Edward S. Aarons and his Sam Durrell books around here. I read one last Gold Medal for the month: ASSIGNMENT ANGELINA (Gold Medal T2309, 1958), which is the earliest of the seven or eight Aarons books I have. I read one before, set in Thailand during the Vietnam war, and didn't like it much. This one had a good pace and some good characters, but it's no Matt Helm.

There's a little gang of four people: a thug, a normal(ish) fellow, a German chemist (not in the pharmacist sense), and his beautiful and much younger American wife. The book has a nice opening, where the four track down former army mates of the thug and the normal(ish) guy. Their company moved some important papers at the end of WWII and the bad people want one of them. They find it, but not before Sam Durrell, hard-case secret agent, is after them.

Now, Durrell works for K Section, but he's seconded to another equally mysterious American spy agency. Something needs investigating, so they send in one man. They don't watch him closely enough, which is their fault. He acts stupidly, which is his. Tough superspies shouldn't make silly mistakes, and Durrell does. I hate that. An old girlfriend, a beauty with bayou cunning and seductive wiles, latches on to him and follows him around. Matt Helm would never put up with that. Durrell goes soft when she's held hostage, then takes her to New York and lets her wander around, even though she wants to kill the people he's supposed to watch. The more I think about it the more it seems the only well-written and sensible characters in the book are the villains.

Aarons keeps the story going nicely, and he's certainly a better writer than William H. Duhart, but I think I've had about enough of him.

I've enjoyed reading the Gold Medals this month. My thanks to those who suggested the theme. Donald Hamilton, John D. MacDonald and Richard Prather are all fine writers. Even if a Gold Medal isn't too good, there'll be a few good things in it--some dialogue, metaphors, an action scene--that help make up for the bad parts. If it's very good, it's 144 pages of lean, crisp writing that you can't put down, that makes you wonder why everything these days is so bloated. If it's not good, at least it's over fast.

And the covers attract a lot of attention on the subway.


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : http://www.miskatonic.org/ : Caveat lector.

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