DAVID DODGE. The Long Escape (1948).

08 Jul

LongEscapeMap.jpgA sharp twist at the very end of this breezy but otherwise standard private-eye tale gives it an extra measure of interest. Al Colby, an American who works out of Mexico City, accepts an assignment to find a man who had left his wife in sleepy Southern California fifteen years earlier, and the trail leads to Chile and to a prominent yet secret-plagued Santiago family. The mystery that Colby solves is engagingly drawn—even though murder plays only a small part in it, and even though suspects are few in number—and so is the South American scenery. Dodge’s use of an easy-going first-person style lends an air of freshness to what is essentially a period piece. That, plus the unexpected last-minute resolution of a romantic subplot, makes the sequel (Plunder in the Sun) a book that’s worth looking up.

[ADDENDUM: To illustrate this post, I’ve found an image on the Web to “borrow” that shows both the front and back covers of first paperback edition of The Long Escape, published in 1950. It’s a “Dell Mapback,” one of 500-odd such books issued between 1943 and 1951, during the glorious early days of American mass-market paperback publishing. Since publishers back then didn’t know exactly what would spur people to buy books in this newfangled format, they lavished far more attention on packaging each title than they would in later years. DellKeyhole.jpg Dell, hitherto known mainly as a publisher of comic books, hit upon a special technique for making the entries in its new softcover line stand out on the rotating metal racks from which merchants in the 1940s typically marketed such low-brow reading matter: It provided two eye-catching covers for the price of one. In all but a few instances, the back cover featured a map or diagram that charted the location (or locations) of scenes from the story that readers would find within. The vast majority of Mapbacks were mystery novels, and Dell often included a legend on the front cover that read “complete with crime map on back cover.” The particulars of setting matter a great deal in most detective stories. With a carefully clued puzzle tale, for example it helps to know where the murder room is in relation to every other room in a house or apartment. A Dell Mapback put that information literally at a reader’s fingertips. With a rambling adventure yarn like this one by Dodge, meanwhile, a Mapback could guide readers over the expanse of an entire continent—from Pasadena to La Paz.]

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Posted by on July 8, 2010 in American, Hard-Boiled, Novel


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