RARA-AVIS: Stuck in the 1950s

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 10 Nov 2003

This isn't exactly a cry for help. I'm having a good time diving into 50s fiction that I've somehow missed over the last 40 plus years. But I know that harping on the good-old-stuff could get old to those focused on the new stuff.

So I've grabbed the complimentary copy (left in the chairs of those attending the Bouchercon Awards Banquet) of George Pelecanos' HARD REVOLUTION due out in March of next year. Derek Strange is 13 at the opening and I'm sinking into it nicely. This has the marks of being one of George's best.

BUT in the meantime, I just finished a really fun read by Donald Hamilton that has suffered under two really dumb titles. When first published in 1956 it was called ASSIGNMENT--MURDER but when Gold Medal picked it up they needed a new title to avoid (I am guessing here) confusion with the Edward Aarons' Sam Durell series. So they stuck it with ASSASSINS HAVE STARRY EYES. Retch...

But back to the novel. It's a thriller born out of the heart of the Cold War and a nifty one. There was something of a sub-genre of these slightly to full-blown paranoid adventures in the 1948 to 1958 period. Some fall completely into the science fiction zone and others keep closer to perceived reality. Most involve some secret society or group that is controlling or attempting to control events. Examples include Eric Frank Russell's DREADFUL SANCTUARY, Gerald Kersh's THE GREAT WASH aka THE SECRET MASTERS, and Steve Frazee's THE SKY BLOCK.

Hamilton's novel has a more grounded in reality feel with the main character James Gregory a scientist working at a top secret weapons research lab in New Mexico. Gregory is a very appealing hero, as comfortably confident, competent and, when necessary, merciless as the best of the Heinlein heroes. The novel opens with Gregory escaping from his job and a failing marriage with a trip into the wilderness to hunt deer. As he sits on a stump watching for deer, he is shot by another hunter who keeps firing even after Gregory shouts his protest. In self-defense, Gregory kills the man and the plot and the novel are well-launched.

It's rare that I truly find a book hard to put down but this one earned that description. Hamilton is a writer I've neglected through the years but that just means there are many pleasurable hours of Hamilton reading in front of me.

Richard Moore

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