cover image Thieves Fall Out

Thieves Fall Out

Gore Vidal, writing as Cameron Kay. Hard Case Crime, $22.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-78116-792-2

Reviewed by S.T. Joshi Some years after the publication of his bestselling novel The City and the Pillar (1948), Gore Vidal (1925%E2%80%932012) felt that critics and publishers had become prejudiced against him because of the controversial subject matter of that work (a pioneering treatment of homosexuality), so he published an array of pseudonymous novels to generate income. Some of these have become popular, notably the three mystery stories published under the pseudonym Edgar Box (1952%E2%80%9354).

Two other novels published as paperback originals, however, are little known, because Vidal refused to allow them to be reprinted, though he eventually acknowledged their authorship. One is A Star's Progress (1950, written under the pseudonym Katherine Everard), a lurid novel about a movie star who fails to find happiness in spite of her fame. The other is the fabulously rare Thieves Fall Out (1953), which appeared under the gender-neutral pseudonym Cameron Kay and is now available again in this welcome reprint.

The novel focuses on Pete Wells, a former Army officer, who falls in with a bluff Englishman named Hastings and H%C3%A9l%C3%A8ne, Comtesse de Rastignac. The two of them offer Pete a cut of the profits for sneaking an immensely valuable artifact (the necklace of Queen Tiy) out of the country. The implausibility of this scenario is deliberate, and throughout the story Pete wrestles with the mystery of why these smart and sophisticated people have entrusted him with this delicate mission. Matters are complicated by Pete's falling in love with a young nightclub singer, Anna Mueller, the daughter of a high-ranking Nazi officer.

Vidal reportedly composed Thieves Fall Out on a Dictaphone, which perhaps accounts for his somewhat bland, affectless prose. There are no dates in the novel, but Vidal's original readers would have recognized that it is set in the summer of 1952, when the corrupt King Farouk of Egypt was overthrown by Gamal Abdel Nasser (with some help from the CIA). Vidal, who had visited Egypt in 1948, deftly interweaves the political turmoil of the moment into his tale.

Readers expecting the acerbic wit of Vidal's satires (Myra Breckinridge, Live from Golgotha) or the immense erudition and epic sweep of his historical novels (Burr, Lincoln) will no doubt be disappointed by Thieves Fall Out. But it perfectly fulfills its humbler purpose by providing a thrill-a-minute roller-coaster ride, with vital characters acting out their parts in a vivid and exotic setting. It would make a fine action film.

S.T. Joshi is the author of Gore Vidal: A Comprehensive Bibliography and the editor of the American Rationalist.