Attack the Baron by "Anthony Morton" (John Creasey) (1951)
I'm still on my John Creasey reading kick. So far in 2021 I've read twenty-five books by Creasey, with another twenty rmaining on Mount TBR. Since Creasey wrote some 560 books, there will still be plenty to read after the pile on Mount TBR is exhausted.
One of Creasey's most popular characters is John Mannering, a retired jewel thief -- think Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief, or Jean Servais in Rafifi, or even David Niven in The Pink Panther. During his jewel thief days, Mannering was known as The Baron (The first nine books in the series had him known as Blue Mask -- perhaps a side-handed nod to Bruce Graeme's fictional burglar Blackshirt -- Creasey changed the name to the Baron and reissued editions of the early novels in the series reflected this. Mannering's career followed three steps: first as an elusive and talented thief out for the bootie, then as a thief who resorts to crime to help others, and finally as a retired jewel thing and current owner of Quinn's, London's premiere store for rare jewels, fine art, and objets d'arte. Mannering's former identity as the Baron remains a secret, although his on-again, off-again friend Superintendent William Bristow of Scotland Yard strongly suspects his past and, with no available evidence, refuses to arrest him. Bristow dreads the day may come when he does have evidence against Mannering.
Other regular characters in the series are Lorna, Mannering's wife, who is the country's premiere portrait artist and -- just perhaps -- the main reason Mannering gave up thievery, Larraby, Quinn's shop manager and a former thief, and Chitterington, a newspaperman always willing to help Mannering while in search of a story.
Fabulous gems, rare antiques, and valuable paintings provide enough background material and motivation for Mannering's exploits, which ranged over 47 novels from 1937 to 1979.
Attack the Baron was the 20th book in the series and it starts out with a bang. Literally. During a robbery at Quinn's Mannering was shot in the head. The robber, a youth in his early twenties, made off with the fabulous Festinas diamond collection, worth about $25,000 pounds (that's in 1951 currency). As Mannering hangs between life and death, police make little progress in solving the crime, althoug they have a rough description of the robber. An emergency operation is successful, although Mannering had to remain in the hospital for two weeks, then in a nursing home, and then finally to rest for several more weeks. During the time, the robber, Reginald Allen, is found murdered. No trace of the gems were found.
The reader is forced to swallow a gigunda amount of disbelief at Mannering's recovery. Although he had been close to death, the bullet in his head resulted in no brain damage and no physical repercussions. Once that accepted, the story flows quickly and evenly through a tale of sordid crime, extortion, and blackmail. Mannering, of course, is in the thick of things, once again putting his life at risk while saving a beautiful girl. The girl, by the way, has captured Chittering's heart and the two become engaged two pages before the novel's end.
The Baron books, like most of Creasey's other series, are quick, engaging, and well-plotted adventures. They may not be great literature but they are damned entertaining and a pleasant way to pass a few hours.