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Saturday, 2 January 2016

Gore Vidal lives to fight another day

Thieves Fall Out
By Gore Vidal as Cameron Kay
Review by Bernie Dowling
GORE Vidal biographer Jay Parini reckons Hard Case Crime has done the world a disservice by publishing this 1953 pulp novel written under a pseudonym. Hard Case claims to have discovered a lost novel by Vidal but that’s a bit of a stretch because the author expressly forbade its reprint during his lifetime. Wisely so,
       Like Phillip Marlowe’s manners, Thieves Fall Out is pretty bad. Bland is the best word to describe the finished product which even the publisher concedes was cobbled together from the pages of tabloid newspapers. Vidal biographer Parini, writing in the Guardian, says the author would have turned this novel out in a few weeks. It shows.


THE main protagonist Peter Wells is not seedy nor desperate nor quippish enough for good noir. For Pete’s sake, Vidal calls him Pete for most of the novel. A Pete does not have his life constantly in jeopardy and does not win the femme fatale. Speaking of femme fatale, Helene with accents above the first two e’s does not evoke Bacall or Ida Lupino and her English henchman fails to channel a sinister whisper of Sidney Greenstreet.

BUT there are elements of interest within the novel well worth the investment of US$1.44 which secured me the eBook from Amazon.

OF course you could pay $60 for one of the  second-hand copies of the pulp original. What I do not understand is why the original would have the words “not a reprint” on the front cover. As always, buyer beware.


Vidal in 1948

THE background to Vidal writing Thieves Fall Out was his effective blacklisting by publishers and critics after his 1948 novel The City and the Pillar had a central homosexual relationship, not portrayed with the homophobia required of mainstream literature.
       Spurned by the literary establishment, Vidal put out three crime pulps under the name Edgar Box and they proved quite lucrative. Vidal thought enough of them to lend his real name to reprints (1978, as a box set actually.)

 VIDAL thought little enough of Thieves Fall Out to suppress its reprint under any name.
Given the hostility to The City and the Pillar, you have to wonder why Vidal chose to make one of the deadliest villains a homosexual. The man tries to rape Pete who also learns that homosexuality was rife in the Arab world. I doubt if Vidal researched this. It certainly presents in the novel as stereotyping, an essential element of homophobia. 

WITH the release of the Jay Parini biography, there will be comment on whether Vidal was a self-loathing gay though such discussions, whether based on race, religion or sexuality, soon become entangled. It is quite feasible that Vidal, knowing that homophobia was a staple of pulp fiction, cast his nemesis in that role as an acerbic reflection of the establishment reaction  against The City and the Pillar.
       Vidal appears respectful of the Moslem (sic in the novel) religion. 
       The ban on alcohol and the use of hashish are both mentioned. Vidal uses the word courier in reference to drugs. I wonder if this was  in the 1953 original or whether it was a re-edit. The book could have done with a preface explaining if there were re-edits. An epilogue explaining the genesis of the novel and the politics in Egypt would also have been handy. 


Hedonist King Farouk 1948

THE novel is set in the time (1952) of the military overthrow, with the help of the CIA, of the Egyptian ruler King Farouk. Vidal depicts Farouk as a womaniser and a Nazi sympathiser both of which were undoubtedly true. He also paints him as a tyrant which is less provable but he only vaguely alludes to his extravagant lifestyle which led to Farouk's loss of popularity. 
       I was hoping Farouk would re-enter the novel towards the end. Alas not, we only see the King in a cameo at the beginning when he struts his stuff on the dance floor. 
       Vidal will be remembered for his historical novels Julian, Washington D.C., Burr and Lincoln among a body of work which included essays, plays and screenplays. Thieves Fall Out is not among his serious historical-fiction.
       I would certainly encourage anyone interested to buy the eBook. To my mind further expense to read this pulp novella of seven chapters would be foolish.

Warning: it contains racism and obscenities.

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