Sunday, February 24, 2019

16. Route of the Red Gold by Dan J. Marlowe

I picked this up in the Friends of the Oakland Library score last xmas (a haul which continues to give).  I have mixed feelings about Dan J. Marlowe.  He can be incredibly good, almost Richard Stark/Peter Rabe levels of hard efficiency.  Then other times he goes astray and the reader gets bogged down in silly era-bound romantics or excessive details.  Route of the Red Gold is mostly the former.  It's a solid espionage adventure with a great locale and a nice mix of characters.  The story moves forward nicely and it has some cool bits.  The parts that do veer towards Marlowe's indulgent side tend to either be short or actually effective, such as a really cool close look at safecracking.

The story is about Marine captain Roy Weston who gets called by the CIA to investigate a possible commie banker on St. Croix while he is overseeing a large training/research operation there.  They picked Weston because they are down on manpower and coming from a Yale background, he has the social chops to mix it up socially with the colonial elites on the island.  He is also a kick ass marine with tons of specialization in spy stuff, so all in all a pretty good fit.  At first there is a lot of detail into the logistics and administration he has to oversee in his Marine officer dayjob and this bogs down a bit (and feels like military-porn which was maybe the intent).  The story picks up quickly, though, as Weston befriends the initial suspect, a hard-drinking shipping agent.  Things get more complicated when he meets an attractive young Vassar grad staying with her wealthy dyspeptic uncle and alchoholic aunt.  They stay on a way too locked down plantation.

It's quite fun and the ending is surprisingly cold (the way it should be, but not excessively in your face about it).  I also found the protagonist to be more likable than usual in that you really sympathized with his workload (managing companies of marines on elite trainings by the day, then boozing and sexing it up all night while trying to spy) and the stresses it brought him.  Everything that happens in the book does so in lovely weather and the kind of activities one would do in lovely weather like swimming and fishing and sitting on open verandas drinking.  A good book to read in February.

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