A TOUCH OF DANGER by James Jones (Book Review)

A book I picked up in a charity shop. When a novelist of the stature of James Jones (author of the modern classic From Here to Eternity) writes a thriller, it is either going to be a cut above the other thrillers or it’s going to be a pretentious flop. I looked at the back cover, skimmed through the first few pages. The early 70s, a Chicago / New York private dick on holiday on a Greek island – a holiday he didn’t want, but which was paid for and he was pushed into by the American millionaire he had just completed a job for in Paris.

A hippy colony. Drug smuggling. A beautiful countess named Chantal who is no longer as young as she was. (What an absurd phrase.) The same age as Lobo, our hero, in fact. About forty. And a blonde Californian girl in her early twenties who has washed up here and summers among the hippies and winters in her own little rented room. Sweet Marie she is called, and she survives by diving and spearing grouper-fish which she sells to the local tavernas, and by sleeping with all and sundry. (Obviously I identify with her.)

Lobo sleeps with the countess and manages to resist Sweet Marie despite her teasing and her invitations. (Lovely scenes of them swimming underwater together and afterwards on the boat and on a beach.)  She is too young for him. No, seriously. In his opinion, not hers. Or mine. And she certainly wouldn’t be considered too young if she were a boy. I mean no middle-aged man ever considered me too young even when I was sixteen, seventeen, let alone in my early twenties like Maria. But Lobo is a White Knight. He is violent – a warrior – yet tender – a saviour – in the authentic tradition of Raymond Chandler’s Mallory. Note the name of Chandler’s hero, Mallory, the same as the medieval author of the Morte d’Arthur. And this one’s name. Lobo. The wolf.

But Lobo, despite his heroism and fighting skills, is not an Alpha. He is an Omega. Listen to this:

It was my three months as a Chicago hero – ‘PRIVATE EYE SHOOTS MAD DOG KILLER IN FLAMING GUN BATTLE’ – that introduced me to my wife.

[…] And I couldn’t stand it. [Being a hero, that is.] After Chicago, I always left a place for the right reasons morally, and the wrong reasons financially. […] Probably I should have given in to her and become a corporation lawyer then. […] Probably, I should have given up, and settled in, and become a stuffy whatcha-ma-call-it, living off other people’s fat. Because being morally right didn’t get me anything. People didn’t admire you when they didn’t know you were a failure by choice, for moral reasons. They didn’t admire you even when they knew it. They thought you were a nut. Or a fool.

Lobo Davies is a good man in a world where goodness has gone out of fashion. And definitely a cut above most of the other private dicks.

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