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Monday 4 December 2023

THE MELTING MAN - book review

In the mid-1960s I read a few books by Victor Canning and thoroughly enjoyed them. For some reason I didn’t read any more (maybe suborned by Helen MacInnes, Len Deighton, Ian Fleming, Gavin Lyall, and Desmond Cory, among others!);  that is, until now, taking up his 1968 thriller The Melting Man, a collector’s item.

This is the fourth (and final) thriller featuring the investigator Rex Carver. Narrated in first-person, it begins with Carver contemplating a holiday, despite the fact that the firm’s bank balance could benefit from an injection of new cash. ‘... eleven months of the year I worked, if it was there to work at, but come September, season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, I took a holiday’ (p9). He told his business partner Hilda Wilkins, ‘I need feeding up.’ She pointedly looked at his lowest waistcoat button and said, ‘That’s not the impression I get’ (p2).

From the outset, the style grabs, with plenty of one-liners, amusing asides, and colourful descriptions. From time to time Carver undergoes a session in the gym run by Miggs, an ex-Commando sergeant who takes one look at Carver and says, ‘My God – a young man in an old man’s body. You’d better let me book you in for a dozen sessions...’ Carver responded: ‘I like to put it on around September. Live off my fat during the winter. Bears do it’ (p6).

His holidaying intentions are waylaid by the arrival in the office of beautiful Julia Yung-Brown. He’d been recommended to her by Miggs: ‘But you don’t quite come up to the description Miggs gave of you. Sort of blurred around the edges somewhere.’ He riposted: ‘Come autumn I begin to disintegrate a little. My best month is May’ (p11).

Despite inferring that Carver was unfit, he manages to hold his own, surviving more than one knock on the head, a near-drowning and a bomb in his car!

Julia and her sister Zelia are the step-daughters of millionaire Cavan O’Dowda, a man with a ruthless reputation. Apparently, Zelia went missing while driving her stepfather’s Mercedes 250 SL in France. Zelia subsequently turned up in Cannes with memory loss and no car. O’Dowda wants Rex to find the car. Simple.

He sets out on the trail of the car – Geneva, Cannes, Turin. And is tracked by his old Interpol pal Aristide Marchissy la Dole as well as the eccentric Alakwe brothers, Jimbo and Najib, together with their sex-mad 6ft 4” lethal assistant Miss Panda Bubakar. It’s obvious that there’s something hidden inside the car that is highly valuable to all the interested actors.

Aristide has appeared in earlier books. He likes his food, particularly if they’re Carver’s croissants ‘which were first made in Budapest in 1686. That is the year the Turks besieged the city. They dug underground passages beneath the city walls at night, but the bakers – naturally working at that hour – heard them, gave the alarm and Johnny Turk was thrown out. In return the bakers were given the privilege of making a special pastry in the form of the crescent moon which still decorates the Ottoman flag’ (p188).

The pace is fast, the characters are larger-than-life, the threats quite real, and the denouement in the millionaire’s mountain chateau is both intense and grim, with a dark and unexpected twist.

Even after fifty-five years, this is a satisfying and entertaining, page-turning thriller.

You can get a used copy for the price of a beer; all four Rex Carver books are available as e-books.

1 comment:

Jim Brown NY said...

If you think any of the Cambridge Five lived exciting lives think again! In an article published last week it was revealed that the spy Bill Fairclough (MI6 codename JJ aka Edward Burlington) who was unceremoniously refused an Oxford University scholarship survived 50+ near death experiences including over two dozen "attempted murders for want of a better expression".

You can find the article dated 7 August 2023 in the News Section of TheBurlingtonFiles website (which is refreshingly advert free). The reason he survived may well have been down to his being protected by Pemberton’s People in MI6 as explained in another fascinating article dated 31 October 2022. It was for real. It is mind-boggling as is that website which is as beguiling as an espionage museum in its own right.