Mark Kilby Stands Alone by "Robert Caine Frazer" (John Creasey) (1962)
I don't think anyone could ever call John Creasey a great writer but he was a pretty good one. I've read perhaps one-tenth of his more than 600 books and have never been disappointed. As has been said before, sometimes you're not in the mood for steak; sometimes you just have to have a good hamburger. Well, that's Creasey. His best work, arguably, was the Commander George Gideon series (written under his J. J. Marric pseudonym) and, again arguably, some of the novels in his long-running Inspector Roger West series. Other people may have their own nominees -- Lord knows there's enough to choose from.
His Mark Kilby series is one of his shorter ones -- six novels published by Pocket Books from 1959 to 1962. To my knowledge this is the only Creasey series to first appear as U.S. paperback originals. Mark Kilby Stands Alone was the penultimate book in the series.
Kilby is an ex-MI5 agent who moved to America after his wife and son were killed. There, he began working for the Regal Investment Security Corporation (R.I.S.C.), perhaps the wealthiest private financial grooup in the world. As their major troubleshooter, Kilby has unlimited resources. His weapons of choice are spring-loaded flexible knives he has hidden on his person. He is resourceful and fearless. Need I mention that he's incredibly handsome? Although not loathe to killing, he has a high moral code and sense of duty. And he reverse tithes, keeping only ten percent of his earnings and giving the rest to charity. Someone this too-good-to-be-true should really grate on the reader, no? Yet I really liked the character; in many ways he reminded me of Leslie Charteris' The Saint.
About the story. With the death of her uncle, Elizabeth Saxon inherits the Saxon Gold and Silver Mining Company in Nevada. In recent years the mines have been played out, but a recent discovery of a vein of gold and raised the company's hopes. Elizabeth leaves her job as a London travel agent and prepares to sail to America to take over the reins of the company. But someone doesn't want her to do this. Liz has an uncomfortable feeling that she's being watched. Minutes after being ensconced aboard the ocean liner, she answers a knock on the door. Opening it, a man lunges toward her with a knife. Kilby (who had been hiding in the shower, naturally) disarms the man. He learns that the would-be killer was working for a powerful mobster named Cellini. We learn that R.I.S.C. had invested a sizable sum with Liz's uncle to finance expansion of the mines and that the company anticipated further investment but, with the murder of the uncle, the mine had been closed off by armed guards, allowing no outsiders access. Thus Kilby's great concern for Liz's life.
With us so far? Good, because things begin to speed up from here. A woman who was mistaken for Liz is murdered. Kilby goes into Cellini's heavily guarded lair and kidnaps the mobster's mistress. Said mistress falls in love with Kilby. (Liz, by the way, had already fallen for him. He's just that kind of guy.) Kilby allows himself to be taken by Cellini's men. A hooker with a heart of gold falls for Kilby. Another escape. Bloodshed. Many people try to kill Kilby. A final showdown at the Nevada mines. A big secret revealed. R.I.S.C.'s investment is saved. So is the girl. So is another girl. Well, two out three ain't bad. The end.
A fast-paced, fun read. Nothing major...just a darned good way to spend a few hours. Kilby, as is the case with many of Creasey's characters, threatens to become habit forming.
Patti Abbott, our Fearless Forgotten Books leader is taking a few well-deserved weeks off. Todd Mason, over at his Sweet Freedom blog, will be collecting the links this week, and the next, and the next. Patti will be back to keep the Forgotten Books gang in line on January 15 for Richard s. prather week.
Whatever beliefs you may or may not hold, I sincerely wish each of you a meaningful and joyous day. May all good things follow you thoughout the new year. Peace.