The lost pulp crime novel by great American novelist Gore Vidal! Hired to smuggle an ancient artefact out of Egypt, Pete Wells finds himself the target of killers and femme fatales – and just one step away from triggering a revolution that will set Cairo aflame!
Title: Thieves Fall Out | Author: Gore Vidal (as Cameron Kay) | Publisher: Hard Case Crime | Pages: 240| ISBN: 9781781167922 | Publication date: 10th April 2015 (originally published in 1953)| Source: Self purchase
‘Thieves Fall Out’ is a 1953 novel by famed writer and intellectual Gore Vidal. It was originally published under the pen name Cameron Kay and has now been reissued by Hard Case. As you might expect from that description, it’s nothing like the kind of social satire Vidal is best known for (disclaimer: it’s the first book I’ve read of his). Instead it’s a sight, cheap, pulpy thriller that isn’t ground-breaking, but kept me entertained for a few hours.
The book is set in post-war Egypt and starts with the hero, Pete Wells, waking up penniless after a drunken night in Cairo and with no recollection of where his money has gone. He gets picked up by a mysterious woman, who hires him to retrieve a valuable necklace from Luxor and return it to her. The first quarter is taken up with fun scene setting and the beginnings of the plot. 50s Egypt is just how you’d imagine it described in a novel of the time, 2 parts ‘Casablanca’ and 1 part steamy exoticism with just enough grit to make it not seem vaguely real. We get passages like:
He took a deep breath, inhaling all the strange odors of Cairo: musk and food, urine, drugs, filth and sandalwood.
She ordered champagne again. The orchestra played Cole Porter. A beautiful silver blonde danced by with a short fat man wearing dark glasses. Pete found it hard to remember where he was, that a few miles away the pyramids stood at the edge of an ancient desert.
Once that’s done, the plot proper kicks in and there’s lots of running around, a few fight scenes, several double crosses and various romantic liaisons for Pete. He makes a tolerable, but not desperately interesting hero. Exactly, the kind of rough diamond westerner you’d expect in a 50s thriller set abroad. The other characters broadly speaking play up to their respective racial stereotypes: shifty Arabs, duplicitous Frenchmen and stiff upper lip Brits. It lost me a bit for a while, and I felt my attention drifting, but the climax in smouldering Cairo had enough thrills and twists to grab my attention again.
Overall then, this is exactly what you’d expect from a 50s American thriller set in Egypt, but maybe not one penned by Gore Vidal. It’s a diverting read if you like that kind of thing (which I do) and an interesting curio.