The thrillers of William F. Buck ley Jr. are political advocacy continued on alternate routes. Mongoose, R.I.P. celebrates, if that's the word, Buckley's loathing for the life and works of Fidel Castro, who is presented as a lecherous murderer. Blackford Oates, Buckley's recidivist hero and master of disguise, is deeply involved in Mongoose, the CIA plots to assassinate Castro, one involving a poisoned wet suit, another a poison-bearing hooker. Real people and real events (the wet suit and the hooker were evidently actual ploys) are interspersed with fiction in the author's flat, pedantic prose. The time frame is from the Cuban missile crisis to the Kennedy assassination. Buckley's affection for Kennedy is as clear as his contempt for Castro.
Buckley does write with authority, and there is no substitute for it, as you realize reading Paul Bishop's grittily, bawdily authentic police procedural Citadel Run. The English-born Bishop is an LAPD detective working the West Valley, and like Joe Wambaugh, of whom he seems the closest equivalent yet, he gets the detailing just right.
His central figures are Calico Jack Walker, a veteran sweating out retirement, and his rookie partner, a Japanese woman named Tina Tamiko. The plot involves an illicit cop-car drag race, Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back before the shift is over. The Las Vegas turnaround gets entwined by a major casino-robbery caper. Like Wambaugh, Bishop has a flair for black comedy and for creating police who are very good and very bad and very human. Amazingly, "Citadel Run" is a first novel; it could hardly be better.
Robin Cook was a Boston eye surgeon before he started writing novels ("Coma," etc.) in 1976. His storytelling is usually sited in the shock waves just ahead of the leading edge of medicine. In Mortal Fear, an eccentric old geneticist has died, and Cook's protagonist, Dr. Jason Hunter, has no doubt it was murder. The geneticist had been on to Something Big (also Something Bad, as things turn out in the lab sometimes). Hunter's pursuits lead into Boston's Combat Zone and down a white-water river at night in the Northwest. Subsidiary characters include a very brainy topless dancer. The dread secret could as well be Hitchcock's imaginary MacGuffin, but getting there is all the fun.
Charles Brandt has been a prosecuting attorney and is currently president of the Delaware Trial Lawyers Assn. When he introduces ex-cop Lou Razzi, long exiled in Brazil after a bum rap, back to the later world of the Miranda decision and, indeed, The Right to Remain Silent, there is simply no doubt the author speaks authoritatively. Not so incidentally, there is police-civic-political corruption on a scale to rival Hammett's "Red Harvest." The writing is not fancy, which is to say it does not get in the way of a head-long tale.
Genres grow ever-harder to define tidily. Peter Abrahams' Hard Rain is a suspenseful mystery-thriller with a plot whose origins lie in something that went down at Woodstock 20 years ago. Abrahams' heroine, Jessie Shapiro, gets rightly alarmed when her ex-husband doesn't bring back their daughter after his weekend of custody. How can it possibly be related (the reader wonders) to the evidently brain-damaged and obviously lethal creature who calls himself Bao Dai? Clues, thin but credible, lead Jessie on a wild tour of New England where a senator (it is a bad month for senators) joins the cast. Jessie is a fine and gutsy woman, and Abrahams keeps her in intimate and sympathetic focus through breakneck happenings. A top-rank adventure.
In the unlikely event John LeCarre and Ross Thomas were to collaborate, the product might well resemble Ted Allbeury's The Judas Factor. I see from the dust-jacket that I am not the first local to admire him ("A master of the genre"--L.A. Times). It is the spy genre, bless its inexhaustible heart, headquartered in London where most of the best of the genre seems to begin. Tad Anders is an ex-operative reduced to fronting a sleazy sex club in Soho (slight shades of Ross Thomas), which is partially subsidized by the Old Firm as both a safe house and a consolation prize to Anders, out to pasture as a troublesome maverick.
He is re-recruited for a dangerous mission in East Berlin, kidnaping an assassin to try to learn just how dirty the Reds intend to play. (Slight echoes of "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold".) Anders is betrayed, tortured, released in a prisoner swap and re-acquainted with the assassin in Britain. The tone is sardonic, the steely goings-on touched with irony and a LeCarrean sense that spies are mirror images of each other. Economical, atmospheric, excellent.
Peter Dickinson's Perfect Gallows is called a novel of suspense. Dickinson, one of England's most versatile and inventive writers of mysteries ("The Poison Oracle," "The Lizard in the Cup") and children's books ("The Dancing Bear") has in fact written a mystery in the form of an engrossing character study. The character is a boy determined to be an actor to the ruthless exclusion of all other human considerations. In his teens, he has already dropped untheatrical Andrew for Adrian as his name of choice. A black man is hanged on the eve of D-Day on a country estate where GIs were billeted and where the boy lives. It takes 40 years to learn by whom or why, or how Andrew-Adrian figured into the equation. The wait is worth it. As always with Dickinson, a lustrous capturing of times and places and characters, with a half-concealed edge of comment, a stiletto beneath the cloak.
Plotted mysteries are in short supply. Gene Thompson's A Cup of Death eases the drought. Dade Cooley, a San Francisco lawyer who is Thompson's continuing character, explores the murder of an archeologist friend who has brought back something priceless from a Grecian dig. (Thompson knows his antiquities.) The killer is only temporarily obvious, then the mystery proves to have more layers than baklava. Very readable.
Ray Russell's Dirty Money is, as they say, a romp, hugely improbable doings involving a pint-sized island dictator, a shrewish sex-pot wife, federal agents who are dumb, duplicitous or both, and $450,000 in hot money that won't stay in place. Divertingly ridiculous and swift if not Swiftian, all of it.
Cropper's Cabin is more suspenseful than mysterious, a coming-of-age-in-hard-times set in sharecropper Oklahoma and, in its spareness, vitality and you-are-there honesty, reminds you just how good Thompson was.
The Black Lizard line at Creative Arts Books in Berkeley specializes in roman noir , the hard-edged literary forerunner of the film noir of the '40s and '50s. It is doing new work, like Jim Nisbet's truly, hellishly gritty Lethal Injection, whose hero is an alcoholic prison doctor. It is also reprinting some under-known and originally undervalued work. The late Jim Thompson was more admired in Europe than at home. His "Pop. 1280" became "Coup de Torchon" with Philippe Noiret, for example. His "Cropper's Cabin" is the latest of 13 Thompson titles from Black Lizard. It includes bracketing essays by Barry Gifford on his films (Thompson wrote "Paths of Glory" for Stanley Kubrick) and by Geoffrey O'Brien on his life, much of it still mysterious.
"On the second evening of his state visit in Moscow, Fidel Castro had been carried away by an oleaginous toast in his honor delivered by Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev. He had begun replying in kind with ardent generalities about the wisdom, courage, compassion, and vision of his hosts. He went on. And suddenly Colonel Yitzgah, who as Chief of Protocol was in charge of Castro's hour-by-hour schedule, found himself half-listening to a florid invitation by Castro to 'all the relatives of all the Soviet patriots now in Cuba helping us with our revolution: I wish to meet you all, and shake your hands on behalf of the people of Cuba.'
" All the relatives of all the Soviet patriots helping Cuba with their revolution! Colonel Yitzgah's reaction was: The dumb sonofabitch is talking about--well, maybe ten thousand people! There were--the colonel didn't know the figure exactly--somewhere between six and eight thousand Soviet technicians still in Cuba, even after the return of eight thousand with the missiles evacuated in the October fiasco. Figure half of them bachelors, that still makes--he calculated as Fidel Castro rhapsodized on the theme of his and his country's debt to these 'great masters of their defensive craft'--that makes, half, say, of eight thousand. That makes four thousand married. That madman has just managed to issue a public invitation to four thousand Russians to come and greet him! Come greet him in my country! Castro has just invited us to put on, with a couple of day's notice, a reception larger than the diplomatic party we give on May Day! Does this dumb bearded bastard know what he is doing?"
Excerpt from "Mongoose."
by William F. Buckley Jr. (Random House: $17.95) CITADEL RUN
by Paul Bishop (Tor/St. Martin's: $17.95) MORTAL FEAR
by Robin Cook (G. P. Putnam's: $17.95) THE RIGHT TO
by Charles Brandt (St. Martin's: $17.95) HARD RAIN
by Peter Abrahams (E. P. Dutton: $18.95) THE JUDAS FACTOR
by Ted Allbeury (Mysterious Press: $15.95) PERFECT GALLOWS
by Peter Dickinson (Pantheon: $15.95) A CUP OF DEATH
by Gene Thompson (Random House: $15.95) DIRTY MONEY
by Ray Russell (St. Martin's: $15.95) CROPPER'S CABIN
by Jim Thompson (Black Lizard Books:
$3.95, paper) LETHAL INJECTION
by Jim Nisbet (Black Lizard: $15.95)