This is one of the ‘John Lange’ adventures written by Michael Crichton during his apprenticeship as a purveyor of paperback thrills. Reprinted in paper by Hard Case Crime, it is also available as an e-book from Open Road in what they refer to as the author’s ‘Med School Years’.
“Listen,” he hissed, his voice low and harsh. “If you do the autopsy, we will kill you. Do you understand? Kill you.”
I offer the following review for Patti’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme at her fab Pattinase blog and Bev’s 2017 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt.
Set in sunny Spain during the reign of General Franco, it features 26-year-old Peter Ross, an American radiologist and all-round babe magnet who is in town for a conference but really just wants a little recreation. Ross meets a young British woman, Angela Locke, on the beach and the two instantly hit it off – but of course there is more to her than meets the eye … Shortly after they meet, Ross is asked to perform a somewhat unorthodox autopsy, to hide a MacGuffin in the chest cavity of a gangster and it’s not long before our heroes go on the run across Europe. This proves to be a very tall tale (some of it is downright silly, especially a scene involving Angela’s very unlikely body double) but is only meant to take you from one breathless set-piece to another, nothing else. Like so many of Crichton’s male protagonists from this era, Ross is a fairly thinly disguised version of himself and is rather flat and unemotional no matter what the situation (it is Angela who says that he has ‘zero cool’). So although our hero is a bit square, there is always lots going on and this thriller is perfectly entertaining as a light genre piece, as long as you are in the right mood. It would seem though that Crichton may have felt a little embarrassed about it in later years though …
“As long as you’re trying to pick me up,” she said, “you might as well sit down and be comfortable.”
Both the paper and e-book editions that are newly available were substantially revised by the author, who also decided to bring the story up-to-date. To do this he created a new frame, adding opening and closing chapters to book-end the narrative. We now have an aged Ross re-telling his story to one of his grandsons, who is recording the tale on video for a school project. By the end, the young lad decides not to keep the video as he is sure his grandpa has been making it up. One suspects that Crichton was not convinced of this early effort and tried to defuse any guffaws by pre-empting some of the disbelief the plot is lively to engender. Not sure he really needed to do that actually, though it is not as good as either A Case of Need or Binary, the latter remaining probably my favourite of the ‘John Lange’ books.
(PS there is a nice in-joke in the Hard Case cover seen here on the right – the book that Angela has been reading is their edition of another John Lange book, Grave Descend)
The Michael Crichton mysteries & thrillers:
- 1966 – Odds On as by ‘John Lange’
- 1967 – Scratch One as by ‘John Lange’
- 1968 – Easy Go [aka The Last Tomb) as by ‘John Lange’
- 1968 – A Case of Need as by ‘Jeffrey Hudson’ – click here for my review
- 1969 – Zero Cool as by ‘John Lange’
- 1969 – The Venom Business as by ‘John Lange’
- 1970 – Dealing (co-written with Douglas Crichton) as by ‘Michael Douglas’
- 1970 – Drug of Choice [aka Overkill] as by ‘John Lange’
- 1970 – Grave Descend as by ‘John Lange’
- 1972 – Binary as by ‘John Lange’ – click here for my review
- 1975 – The Great Train Robbery – click here for my review
- 1992 – Rising Sun
- 1994 – Disclosure
- 1996 – Airframe
- 2004 – State of Fear
Open Road Media have republished all ten of Crichton’s early potboilers as e-books. For further information about their edition of Zero Cool and his other thrillers, visit their homepage at: https://openroadmedia.com/search/crichton
I submit this review for Bev’s 2017 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt in the ‘brunette’ category:
*****(2 fedora tips out of 5)
Crichton wrote so many different sorts of thrillers, Sergio, didn’t he? His early stuff may not have had the depth, etc., that the later work did. But as you say, if you’re in the mood, it can be a fun break. Wise to ask your disbelief to go for a swim first, but still – fun. Glad you thought this had some good aspects to it.
Thanks Margot, it was a fun little read. One does suspect that Crichton had his own doubts about this one!
This sounds decent, although I am not thrilled that he re-edited the story. Was that just for this novel or for all of the Lange reissues? I have a copy of Scratch One in the Hard Case Crime edition (not read yet).
This is the only one that was updated (sic) as far as I know – but glad that it was done in an up-front way at least.
Much less distressing in transparency (and in the quality of what was revised) than, say, John D. MacDonald’s “updates” on his early short fiction…or so I gather…
Still not read a single thing by MacDonald – not proud of this you understand but he was never as big a name outside of the US as I understand it …
THE EXECUTIONERS. Though, really, almost any of his early stand-alones novels. Though I started with the short stories and read mostly Travis McGee novels first, as most US readers might.
Seen the film versions of course …
The films, the second more so than the first but both, radically Dumb Down the JDM novel. Check it out…and it’s got to be the easiest single novel to find…
Will do chum, thanks.
I read this a few years ago, the Hard Case edition, and was hoping for a light and breezy piece. I suppose it was to an extent but I re,member getting a bit fed up as it went on because, as you point out, it starts to become really silly. I know that by the end I was glad to finish it off, not because I found it a poor book as such but just that the contrived and juvenile side of it was wearing thin for me. So OK, but I agree you need to be in the right mood.
It is certainly a very ‘early’ work by any definition 🙂
I still have a copy of Grave Descend on the shelf which I meant to read around the same time but I still haven’t done so – will do, but don’t know when.
Haven’t read that one – John F Norris was pretty funny about it as I recall from this series of comments 🙂
I read these “John Lange” books when they were first published. Light, breezy thrillers. Michael Crichton really grabbed me with THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY way back in 1975!
That’s a much better book all round, definitely 🙂
One of his relative few excursions away from technophobic sf.
Surely he wasn’t technophobic … he is usually championed as the “creator’ the so-called “techno thriller” – that seem fair to you? Easily the biggest name at the time I suppose. I doubt I would have agreed with a lot of his opinions (especially on the environment) but really did leave an extraordinary life of many parts
Extremely technophobic, particularly for an MD. All his sf is about how we’re bringing doom to ourselves Yet Again with this new tech.
Right, OK, but the books are stuffed with tech So bit of a live hate thingamie 😉
I’d suggest it was more keeping your perceived enemies, much like environmentalism, under closer scrutiny…
The scepticism seems one hardly alien to much SF of the time I suppose?
Skepticism is one thing. Luddite hostility to environmentalism and any sort of technological progress is more in keeping with the kind of fringe of SF writing Crichton specialized in…and certainly strokes most readers at least as hard as tecnnophilism.
The anti environmental thing I just can’t understand from anyone who claims a science background.
And what a knack for the unintentionally confusing pen-name Crichton had…Lange being the real name of “John Norman” and “Michael Douglas”…the latter not so prominent a name in acting, etc. for some years yet…
Didn’t know that about Norman! The Douglas thing is funny (especially decades later when he starred in the OK film of Disclosure) but I think what with his brother being named Douglas and it was a collaboration …
Coincidental, but he kept stumbling into that sort of thing. It wasn’t as if there wasn’t already a famous Mike Douglas (singer and chat show host) in the US at the time to Not go that route…even Douglas Michaels would’ve been a bit more sensible given the circumstances.
All very bizarre as you say – No idea why he used Hudson just that one time.
Because somehow he anticipated a fan named Jeffrey Hudson who would publish a single pro story in IF in 1974, a jape about Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg attempting to outwrite one another and accidentally creating a paper monster which vanquishes the world (IF editor James Been was dissatisfied with the ending, and ran the story by Asimov and Silverberg to see if they felt like providing a better one…Asimov did choose to try). ISFDB notes the semipro magazine VISIONS also had another short story from him in 1988.
I always liked that he used the name of a famous dwarf – Crichton so rarely showed traces of a sense of humour.
Grr. James Baen. Spell-checker overruled me w/o notice.
Haven’t read any of the Lange books, or, come to think of it, anything at all by Crichton, altho it seems I did consider trying The Amdromeda Strain once or twice, but never did. And yet it does seem as if I did read a Crichton around that time–maybe a short story? Clearly writing for the movies–and rather successfully. I think I shall skip the Lange books, but enjoyed your review, as always.
Fair enough Matt – the Lange books are just a bit of fun, nothing more.
I tried to read this one, but I couldn’t get interested in it at all. I have the HCC edition and had no idea it had been revamped/rewritten. I think the video business bothered and confused me. I was about to reiterate everything I wrote about GRAVE DESCEND and being astounded that Crichton wrote all these books while in med school until I saw you have already linked to it above. Didn’t remember writing that at all. But with all these years of reading posts and writing comments on so many blogs it’s bound to happen.
Have a wonderful Christmas wherever you go, Sergio. I’ll miss you around these parts. Thanks for sending me all those DVDs of some great movies over the years and for some fine reading here. You’ve helped to educate me about writers I probably never would’ve discovered on my own. Be well, my friend. Onward and upward!
You are as ever very kind. It’s been a great pleasure and a real education. Thank you John.
Sergio – Thanks for the review. I have yet to read any of Crichton’s Lange books. But, he was the first novelist to keep me up til dawn on a school night to finish his book, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN … Merry Christmas!
Happy holidays chum 😀
I haven’t read any of these early books, Sergio since Crichton was not really one of my faves though I must say that I really enjoyed JURASSIC PARK, CONGO, and TIMELINE.
P.S. He died much too young. Such a brilliant man.I used to look forward to his Charlie Rose interviews once a year or whenever he had a new book. All gone now.
I agree, a fascinating person and always such a shame when people leave too soon. Merry Christmas Yvette 😀
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So I just read this, and maybe I was skimming too much, but Angela was said to have long black hair throughout the book. Then at the very end he mentions her blonde hair… twice. What?
I noticed the same!! I even went back to the beginning to make sure. Yep “dark-haired” Angela. Last chapter, she’s blonde. Bantam edition 2nd printing October 1973. I had to Google it to see if anyone else noticed!!