Captive by The Gordons (1957)
Mildred Gordon and her repetitively named husband Gordon Gordon signed their 19 mystery novels as by "The Gordons." (Mildred also wrote one book by herself in 1946, four years before the first novel by "The Gordons;" After Mildred died, Gordon published two further The Gordons books with his second wife, Mary Dorr). The couple are proably best known today for their book Undercover Cat, which was filmed by Disney as That Darn Cat,
The Gordons met at the University of Arizona. Among their careers Gordon served as editor for the Tucson Citizen and Mildred was an editor for Arizona Highways, so their ties to the area were strong as is evidenced by my Forgotten Book this week.
Captive takes place in and around the Navajo territory, an area in the Southwest half the size of New England with a population of 80,000 -- Tony Hillerman territory thirteen years before he published his first book. As with Hillerman's work, Captive embodies the land, its people, and its cultures with respect and admiration.
Two criminals, the older a calm mentor to the violent younger, plan to rob a delivery of more than $60,000 due at various trading posts throughout the territory. In this time and place there was no need for armored cars; the money was to be delivered by a civilian driver and a Navajo policeman in a private car. The plan was simple: fly a helicoptor to an isolated area, stop the car, get the money, then fly to a spot a hundred miles away where their getaway car was stashed and drive away. Things went south (or Southwest?) when the younger criminal decided it would be better to leave no witnesses. In a brief blaze of bullets, the two men in the car lay dead and the older criminal is shot in the upper chest. As they make their getaway they realize that one bullet had hit their fuel tank ant they wouldn't be able to make it to where they had stashed their car. The helicopter makes as far as an isolated trailer that is used as a schoolhouse. They take a young teacher captive and use her car to get to their destination. But the territory is rough and unfamilar; the car crashes and the two criminals and their captive have to walk this beautiful and potentially deadly landscape to make their escape.
Meanwhile, a small number of law officers from the Navajo police, the local sheriff's department and the FBI set out to find the robbers. The FBI is represented by John Ripley, who is stationed at the Bureau's Santa Fe office. Ripley, a series character who would also be stationed at Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC, during his six-novel career, does not take center stage in the book. In the book's 28 brief chapters (the book has only 138 pages,) the point of view shifts rapidly back an forth from the hunted to many of the hunters, focusing on their characters and background with laser-like precision.
Captive is a book that can be enjoyed for its fast-paced, exciting narrative, for its obvious respect for the land and its people, and for the exacting depiction of police work in an area that few us really know. Gordon Gordon served as a counter-intelligence agent for the FBI during World War II and that experience and that knowledge of law enforcement was put to good use in many of his books.
I mentioned Tony Hillerman earlier. Let me close with a paragraph from page 67 which struck me:
"Chee, the ten-year-old boy from the Red Mesa trailer school, leaned against the jeep, watching him intently and enviously, his sharp black eyes awed by the radio, and the gold NavajoPolice star on the olivve-green shirt, and most of all by the bulky, broad-shouldered man who moved with such authority. Chee had thought he would like to be a sheepfarmer, like his grandfather, and then he decided he would become a singer, because a singer had fame and money and people listened to him. But when Hosteen looked down at him and smiled, his mind was made up. He would become a captain of police in Law and Order."