Saturday, March 09, 2019

19. Mission for Vengeance by Peter Rabe

This was another exciting find in the great Friends of the Oakland Public Library haul of xmas 2018. Any original Peter Rabe is a find, even a less one, which I suspected this might be.  The cover is quite generic and not very inspiring and the mixed messages of the promotional text didn't help.

The story here is about John Miner, a man on a ranch outside of San Francisco who is waiting for his fiancee, Jane Getterman, to finally come and live with him.  When she arrives, her dad is unexpectedly there and his presence makes Miner's stomach tight.  This is not just traditional annoyance with the father-in-law as we soon learn that Mr. Getterman and Miner have a criminal past together and his presence at the ranch means that something from it has arisen and there is trouble.

Trouble there is indeed and it is in the name of Farrett, a resentful loser that Miner had hired for the gun running operation that he had set up with Getterman and a few others.  It got busted up and they had gone their separate ways, but Farrett had now reappeared and his very name makes Miner worried, especially now that he has Jane.

It's a good premise but an uneven book.  The point of view jumps from first person (from Miner's perspective) to third (Farrett and several others).  The tone and pacing is also inconsistent.  Farrett is really frightening and we slowly learn more and more how crazy he actually is, while we also learn more and more about their gun-running operation.  Those threads were engaging, as were many of the locations and the writing overall.  Rabe is a skilled writer and he portrays odd yet real situations, often in quite rundown and depressing settings.  These are strong.  But the storyline itself bogs down at times, with lots of details about flight times and too many times where Miner is stuck then not stuck.  Finally, there is a major plot hole at the end, where a crime that would have been quickly discovered and quite quickly connected to Farrett is overlooked so that he can continue to be a narrative threat.

It is also quite nasty, especially the section when Farrett tracks down his old girl friend at the diner owned by her and her husband. Rabe did not pull his punches and there are some dark, sexual details here that surprised me for being from 1958.

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