Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2014 July 04 • Friday

Here's a book I picked up at a flea market.

There was a sticker on it that said Paul Kavanagh was a pen name for Robert Bloch but the real author is actually Lawrence Block. I didn't discover this until after I'd read it. I was amused because while I was reading it I was reminded of Lawrence Block, specifically his book Hit Man.

Like Hit Man, The Triumph of Evil is about a freelance assassin. Miles Dorn is retired, however, until he goes back to work for an unnamed movement that wants to manipulate social tensions in early 1970s America with the goal of placing a fascist leader in power. The argument is that the United States at that moment resembles the Weimar Republic. A series of false-flag murders of prominent people will stir the pot in just the right way.

Dorn doesn't want to do any of this but he realizes that he can do it or be killed. He also realizes that he'll be killed after he fulfills his missions. And he might not actually want to live in a fascist USA. (In a touching moment, this realization presses upon him most strongly after he visits the New York Public Library and is impressed by all it offers and represents.)

It's a great thriller. The jobs themselves are like miniature episodes of Mission: Impossible and Kavanagh/Block writes convincingly in the voice of an experienced mercenary killer. Consider Dorn's thoughts as he is first approached by two men from the "movement".

His eyes stayed on Vanders but he concentrated on the smaller man, Brown, studying him out of the corner of his eye, looking for any sign of tension. If they meant to kill him, it would be Brown who did the killing. He did not bother to wonder why they might want to kill him. Too many people had reasons of varying degrees of urgency. Dorn kept his eyes on Vanders and let his mind work out what his body would do if Brown moved or changed expression. Brown was at least ten and probably fifteen years younger than Dorn, presumably armed, and apparently in good condition. If they meant to kill him, Dorn thought, they would very likely succeed.

Some of this reminds me agreeably of Richard Stark, who was really Donald Westlake and a good friend of Block's. Fans of Stark/Westlake and Block are sure to enjoy this one.

The first line is "When the doorbell rang, he was sitting at the kitchen table drinking tea and watching baby birds".