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Plunder Of The Sun (Hard Case Crime) Paperback – May 3, 2005
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After Berrien is found dead in his shipboard cabin, Colby discovers that the object he is carrying is a quipu, an Inca message-cord, wrapped in three sheets of parchment covered with writing in Quechua. After consulting a museum in Lima, Prescott's The Conquest of Peru, and an unscrupulous collector and translator in Arequipa, Colby learns that what he really has is a manuscript describing the location of eighty-four pieces of lost Inca treasure.
In his quest for the gold, Colby tangles with two beautiful women (Berrien's nurse Ana Luz and a blonde "bit of fluff" named Julie), assorted gunmen, and Jeff, a rough, ruthless American "sharp-shooter" who first tries to steal the manuscript, then proposes a partnership, and finally double-crosses him. The action climaxes with a chase across Lake Titicaca as Jeff tries to make it to Bolivian waters in a small reed boat.
David Dodge (1910-1974) was working as a San Francisco tax accountant when he wrote his first novel, Death and Taxes (1941). Not surprisingly, his first series character, James "Whit" Whitney, was a San Francisco tax accountant ... who reluctantly gets caught up in the police investigation into the murder of his partner. This edition of Plunder of the Sun (originally published in 1949), issued as part of the outstanding Hard Case Crime series of tough noir novels, represents the first time in fifty years that the book has been in print (and the first of any of Dodge's books in print in over fifteen years ... hopefully readers won't have to wait that long for another one). Dodge considered this novel one of his best works. He was disappointed with the Hollywood treatment of his story (starring Glenn Ford as Al Colby; 1953), which moved the action from Peru to Mexico and changed the Inca gold to Aztec treasure. (He was much happier, for obvious reasons, with a later film adaptation of another of his books, To Catch a Thief, which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starred Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.)
Good story. Good pace.
PLUNDER OF THE SUN is one of those works that has fallen into undeserved obscurity, a state that will hopefully be remedied by its new incarnation in the Hard Case Crime catalog. David Dodge was a frequent and fairly prolific writer of hard-boiled fiction from 1940 through 1972. His best-known work, TO CATCH A THIEF, was adapted for film by Alfred Hitchcock. But he was also famous for a series of novels featuring detective and tax expert James "Whit" Whitney. Dodge was also a popular travel writer, and his mystery novels soon became recognized for their exotic backgrounds. Dodge created a second series of mystery novels featuring Al Colby, an American detective and fixer based in South America in general and Chile in particular. PLUNDER IN THE SUN is a Colby novel, and is a stellar example of Dodge's talents as a travel reporter and mystery writer.
At first blush PLUNDER OF THE SUN appears to be a bit of a departure from most of the fare of Hard Case Crime to date. It is more global in scope, taking place in Chile and Peru as opposed to the usual hard-boiled environs of New York or Los Angeles. There is also a bit more at stake here; instead of drugs or a bank heist, it is concerned with smuggling and buried treasure. But all of the other elements that make noir what it is --- deadly situations, treacherous men, beautiful but deadly women --- are here. Dodge transforms Colby, his itinerant soldier of fortune, into a competent stranger in a paradise where the act of turning over a rock can bring either wealth or a sudden and painful death.
PLUNDER OF THE SUN begins with Colby being retained to smuggle a mysterious package from Chile into Peru. It doesn't sound like much of a job; all that Colby has to do is take the package from his erstwhile employer, sail on a ten-day cruise to Peru, and give the package back when they land. By the time the cruise is over, however, Colby's enigmatic employer is dead and he is on the run from at least two gunmen. Even worse, he has been betrayed by two beautiful women. The package that Colby is carrying is worth more money than he can imagine, and incidentally contains the answer to one of history's greatest mysteries.
Colby can trust no one, but he doesn't know this, an element that gives the novel some added twists and turns. Additionally, the people who are trying to separate Colby from his package cannot trust one another; alliances shift and turn, with the only constant being Colby's rough sense of honor and decency. Dodge navigates his reader through a complex plot, keeping a sense of wonder present throughout the proceedings. One cannot read the book without spending at least a few moments wondering how such a work could have gone out of print for so long.
Hopefully the response to PLUNDER OF THE SUN will be such that Hard Case Crime will see fit to reprint in its distinctive format more of Dodge's works. This is a great story, by an under-acknowledged master. Highly recommended.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub
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