Written by Gore Vidal — Over the last few years Hard Case Crime has successfully unearthed some lost novels and re-introduced them with attractive throwback pulp covers. Novels such as The Comedy is Finished (written by Donald E Westlake), The Cocktail Waitress (James M Cain) and Grave Descend (Michael Crichton) have all proved popular with critics and fans alike, perhaps unsurprisingly given all three writers enjoyed significant success in their careers as crime writers.
Whilst no-one, save perhaps Norman Mailer, would dispute Gore Vidal’s importance as an essayist and commentator, his ferocious intellect is no guarantee he was a good storyteller in the crime genre. Yet some of his earliest work was in this area and Thieves Fall Out was first published over 60 years ago.
The story starts in classic pulp style with our narrator, the American Peter Wells, waking up in a brothel in Cairo with only a hazy recollection of the night before. Yes, all his money was taken while he slept off his hangover. The American Consulate is less than sympathetic and Wells has to survive on his wits. It transpires that he has something of a past in these things, and it’s not long before he finds a short job which should pay enough in precious dollars to get him back stateside.
Wells heads to an expatriate hangout called the Stanley Hotel where he meets an Englishman called Hastings who soon has his measure as a desperate man. Hastings arranges an introduction to his business partner, the beautiful Comtesse de Rastignac, who propositions him over dinner. If Wells is prepared to travel up the Nile to Luxor, he will meet an Egyptian businessman called Mr Said there with further instructions. He cannot know the exact nature of the job just yet, except that it is mostly legal and likely dangerous. He should return within a week or so, at which point he will be paid £200 and, it is hinted, receive a more personal thank you from the Countess.
Wells agrees but is followed on the train from Cairo and later finds a poisonous scorpion in his sleeping carriage. Someone, it seems, is keen for Wells not to complete his job. There will be further dangers for Wells to face before his story is over, including a beautiful German chanteuse, a corrupt policeman, an attempted gelding amongst the tombs, and revolution in the streets.
Thieves Fall Out is certainly a superior pulp effort, combining the espionage and adventure genres, and while some of the more outré elements – the love triangle, and a suggestion of homosexual liaisons – are very tame nowadays, there is much to enjoy. The prose, only occasionally clunky, is for the most part clear and concise and the story gives good value for money; not one but two femmes fatales, an exotic location, a mysterious MacGuffin and plenty of back-stabbing and treachery. And thanks to the efforts of jacket artist Glen Orbik, this is one of the most handsome books I have seen in a long time.
Gore Vidal’s biographer has already bemoaned the republication of Thieves Fall Out, considering it an early work, written only for money, and an embarrassment. But the pulp novel endures as a significant literary form and is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Thieves Fall Out is a superior example.
Thieves Fall Out out today for Kindle and is released 17 April as a hardback. Click here for more pulp crime fiction.
Hard Case Crime/Titan Books
CFL Rating: 4 Stars