I’ve read quite a few Dan Fowler novels by various authors over the years, but “Snatch!” goes back to the series’ origin, appearing in the very first issue of the pulp G-MEN, cover-dated October 1935. Dan Fowler is an agent of the Division of Investigation, a name still used by author George Fielding Eliot even though the DOI’s name was changed officially to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in July of that same year. It’s likely Eliot wrote the story before that name change went into effect.
But that’s just a minor point of interest and doesn’t really matter. Although
he’s never referred to by name, the chief of the DOI is clearly J. Edgar
Hoover, and he assigns Fowler and his sidekick, Agent Larry Kendal, to break up
the notorious Gray Gang and bring its leader Ray Norshire, the top name on the
Most Wanted list, to justice. Norshire and his gang have been robbing banks all
over the Midwest, and they’ve just gone into the kidnapping racket as well, having
abducted the infant daughter of a bank president. Fowler gets the assignment
because he’s from one of those Midwest states (Eliot doesn’t specify which one)
and his father is still a county sheriff there.
Fowler and Kendal take off for the Midwest, and when they reach Fowler’s hometown, he meets up with an old flame, telephone operator Sally Vane, whose father is also a lawman, a detective on the local police force. But Fowler soon becomes suspicious that the elder Vane may be mixed up with the Gray Gang, an unexpected and unwanted complication.
Despite the title, the kidnapping angle of this novel is wrapped up in the first half of the yarn, and the rest of it is devoted to running down Ray Norshire and his minions and uncovering the real mastermind behind the gang. (The mastermind’s identity won’t come as much of a surprise to regular pulp readers.) It’s a fast-moving blend of investigative procedure and wild shootouts, chases, captures, and escapes. Given everything that’s gone before, the ending maybe isn’t as dramatic as it could have been, but it’s still satisfying.
It's been quite a while since I read anything by George Fielding Eliot, a prolific contributor to the detective, adventure, and war pulps, but for some reason, I had it in mind that his writing was a little stodgy. Not so in this story, anyway. At times it reminded me a little of Norvell Page’s crazed, over-the-top Spider novels. Which is a good thing, mind you. Now I’m eager to read more by Eliot. After the pulp era, he went on to a career writing military and historical non-fiction, so maybe that’s where I got the idea. I’m glad to be proven wrong.
It's also interesting to see the first appearance of Sally Vane, who is Fowler’s long-running romantic interest in the series and an FBI agent. I didn’t know she started out working as something else.
I read an e-book reprint of the lead novel and don’t own the original pulp, but the three backup stories are by Howard R. Marsh, Westmoreland Grey, and none other than an old favorite of mine, Leslie Scott writing under his A. Leslie pseudonym. Scott is best remembered as a Western writer, of course, but he wrote in other genres as well.
With “Snatch!”, the Dan Fowler series gets off to a great start. I’ll be reading more of them in the near future. (As I may have mentioned, I’ll be writing a Dan Fowler story for an anthology later this year, so I’m trying to get in as much of the proper mindset as possible.)
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