Thursday, December 09, 2004

High Dive

Every so often I like to take a book from my shelves that has been sitting there unread for twenty or more years and read it. The past few days I've been doing just that with HIGH DIVE by Frank O'Rourke, published in 1954 by Random House.

O'Rourke is best known as a Western writer, but he wrote some mysteries, too, and this is one of them, with a set-up that seems more appropriate for a Gold Medal paperback: In a Mexican resort town, a varied group of people come together, some of them rich Americans, some of them the Mexicans who live and work there, including an ambitious young cliff diver. Several of the Americans have carefully kept secrets centering around the missing loot from a Los Angeles armored car company robbery that netted the thieves a cool two million. There are also several cases of incipient adultery going on. Seems like plenty of plot material to work with.

Unfortunately, O'Rourke does practically nothing with it. He reveals too much about his characters too quickly, so that there's no suspense of wondering exactly who is up to what. There's also very little action, and what there is of it occurs off-screen. The reader is left with 205 pages of lifeless, self-consciously literary scenes where the characters sit around and talk. Occasionally there's a nice line, just enough to provide hope that the book might take on a little vitality, but it never happens. This is one of the most disappointing books I've read in a long time. (And if you're going to try to write a hardboiled mystery novel during the Fifties, you ought to know enough about the field so that you don't name a major character "Mike Shane". Even with the different spelling, it's a big distraction.)

This one goes back on the shelf, and I sort of wish I hadn't taken it off.

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