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Michael S. Friedli
- Published on Amazon.com
Fictionist Jack Vance may be best known for his SF&F novels, but he wrote over a dozen books in the arena of Crime Fiction, and Vance has personally maintained a lifelong enthusiasm for Mysteries. It is a genre Vance credits very seriously, and he utilized (generally) his real name, John Holbrook Vance, for his Mystery works. It is often remarked that many of his Science Fiction novels are in essence mystery stories set off-planet. However, the three novels in this collection, Dangerous Ways, remain safely in conventional settings, though two are in rather exotic locales of the South Pacific and North Africa.
The superb novel The Man In The Cage won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from Mystery Writers of America in 1960, and amazingly holds up in today's zeitgeist. Set picturesquely in 1950's North Africa during the conflict between French and Arab interests in Algeria, aspects on pan-Arabism resonate even today with contemporary readers. This page-turner is also one of Vance's Suspense-Mysteries, wherein the protagonist falls into dire jeopardy - hence not only its published title, but its working title: No-One Knows Where He Went. (Another Vance Suspense-Mystery is The Dark Ocean, this time with a female protagonist who is similarly resourceful & persevering in overcoming an apparently hopeless ordeal; it is well worth finding).
As the excellent Introduction to this collection elucidates, this and the other two novels are not so much "whodunnits" as they are really intriguing "why- and how-dunnits". (Yet Vance did write purely whodunit-style Mysteries; for example, his very popular Sheriff Joe Bain mystery novels.)
The featured initial novel, The Deadly Isles, is set in the South Pacific, and as with many Vance mysteries, the non-detective protagonist is forced into fulfilling the detective role. In fact, the fascinating stance of this novel is that it is a Reverse-Mystery: the would-be victim survives and soon identifies his attacker - albeit unknown to this attacker, who believes incorrectly in the success of his assigned killing - and then commences to track him covertly, and unravel all the mysterious circumstances. The story effortlessly carries the reader along as it unfolds, and is nicely paced. Period timeframe of this story stays modern-day and immaterial, (for even if it is actually the 1960's, it easily could be yesterday).
The last featured novel, Bad Ronald, is Vance's Suspense/ Thriller, and while it would certainly fall under the rubric of Crime Fiction, it contains no traditional Mystery per se, at least for readers. It is instead a `hider-in-the-house' gambit. As the Introduction relates informatively via mention of other Vance titles and villains, this `hider' reflects an acclaimed Vance character type: the artist-criminal. His being sensitive, creative, but misunderstood helps defray some of the repugnance for his crimes. His fantasy realm of Atranta effervesces with Vancian imagination. Of interest, he might actually be a prototype for this category of Vance anti-protagonist. Published in 1973, and also made into a television movie in 1974 (still available online, including Amazon), [but its ending is toned down: no killings], a finished draft of this existed in 1955, where its initial apropos title was Something Awful; thus this last published book of this collection's trio actually pre-dates the other two novels, (not to mention other Vance artist-criminals of this same enthralling ilk - for more on this see the book's Introduction).
This appealingly varied selection of Crime Fiction novels - an award-winning Suspense-Mystery, a clever Reverse-Mystery, and a seminal Suspense/ Thriller - help show Jack Vance for the superlative Master of Fiction that he is. Highly recommended.