This story is a tight-knit little yarn of priceless treasure hidden in the ruins of South America and the assortment of treasure-hunters out to find it. Detective Al Colby is hired to carry a parcel via ship from Chile to Peru, a cake-walk task since he has to hold onto the parcel for ten days and return it once the ship docks in Peru. Only his employer dies mysteriously on the voyage. Investigating further, Colby realizes that the parcel may not have been as innocent as was claimed. From there, it’s a mad chase through exotic scenery to see who ends up with the treasure, with alliances shifting and forming all the way.
David Dodge wrote To Catch a Thief, one of my favorite Hitchcock flicks, and the similarities show through the pacing and character development. All of the characters are well-rounded, especially the female characters, and you get a fairly good idea of all the characters as the novel proceeds. This combines well with the betrayals, as the protagonist ends up crossed and double-crossed at every twist and turn.
Reading through the story is a joy. There’s a real sense of mystery here, and the narrative twists and turns its way around a skillfully complex plot as a myriad of characters, each with their own motives. Quick-paced and never dull, I found little to complain about with this one. There’s plenty of mystery, plenty of danger, and it’s all set in an exotic South American setting, complete with a firm authorial authenticity regarding the setting. Highly recommended, and a good start to things.
This is one of many books I wish I’d waited to review here; my earlier attempts at hacking out a brief overview piled on with two other books don’t reflect very well. Perhaps I’ll re-read it and post a new-and-improved review.
Plunder of the Sun was the first Hard Case Crime I read, and I don’t think I could have picked a nicer book. Dodge’s plot chugs along like a freight train, picking up speed and style until its finale barrels past at blinding speed. The characterization is fluid, leading to the dynamic relationships born of double-crosses and shifting allegiances. And I’ve always liked the concept of a treasure hunt in some exotic locale; 1950s crime writers had a strange fascination with Mexico and South America, which is a perfect exotic setting for its time. Add in some Inca gold, and bam, you have a solid novel. It may not be the best in the line, but consider it one of my favorites, and it comes damn close to greatness.
I forgot to mention that Al Colby reappears in several other of Dodge’s books; I think this is the second of three. (Regardless, there’s two other Colby volumes I need to track down.) Also, Plunder of the Sun was filmed in 1953; I still haven’t tracked down a copy, and it’s on TCM from time to time, but there’s a good review over on Tipping My Fedora.
I’m also sad to report that Dodge’s The Last Match didn’t live up to the same high standards of Plunder of the Sun; it felt too unfinished—which it was, a shelved 1973 manuscript—like a batch of unrelated, semi-autobiographical events loosely jammed together to form a coherent whole.