Friday, May 02, 2008

The Book You Have to Read: Seven Faces -- Max Brand

This week I’m participating in Patti Abbott’s The Books You Have to Read blog project, and the book I’ve chosen to write about is Max Brand’s SEVEN FACES. Most of you who are familiar with Max Brand’s work know him as a Western writer, but Brand, whose real name was Frederick Faust, was also a prolific mystery author. During the Thirties his work appeared regularly in the pulp magazine DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY, among others, and DFW was where SEVEN FACES originally appeared as a serial in October and November of 1936.

The protagonists of this novel are a couple of New York City cops, Angus Campbell and Patrick O’Rourke, who make a formidable team despite the fact that they can’t stand each other. When a wealthy man named John Cobb appeals to the police department because he’s been receiving threats on his life, Campbell and O’Rourke are assigned to the case. Cobb has to go to Chicago on business, and the two detectives also have to travel to Chicago to present some evidence in a court case, so their superior decides they should take the train with Cobb and guard him from whoever wants to kill him.

Unfortunately, Cobb disappears on the way to Chicago, and Campbell and O’Rourke have to split up in their attempts to track him down and find out what happened to him. From there the story is a fast-paced yarn featuring torture, murder, greed, and evil coming back from the past to haunt the present. Sure, the characters are a little stereotypical – Campbell is a dour Scotsman, O’Rourke a fat, cigar-smoking, heavy-drinking Irishman – but the plot has some clever twists and Faust keeps things perking so nicely that the reader is drawn along effortlessly by the story.

I picked this book mostly because I enjoyed it, but also because while it’s obscure, it’s not that hard to lay your hands on a copy. It’s been reprinted twice in the past ten years, first by the University of Nebraska Press in their series of Max Brand reissues, and then in large print by Chivers/G.K. Hall. Faust wrote at least one more novel featuring Campbell and O’Rourke, MURDER ME!, and I intend to track it down and read it, too.
(By the way, hearty congratulations to Patti and Megan for their well-deserved awards!)


pattinase (abbott) said...

This one looks terrific. No matter how much one reads, there are so many more wonderful books waiting for us.

Charles Gramlich said...

I have never read anything by "Brand" except his westerns. Some of those were pretty good.

Craig Clarke said...

The publisher's website has several of these Brand reprints for around $4.00 plus shipping (Seven Faces is one of them).

I bought a handful at the end of last year, and they all arrived in great condition.