Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Missing Author, an Unknown Dwarf

Normally, I would be comfortable boasting that I have a pretty good familiarity with crime and mystery novels. There are plenty of authors whom I haven't read, but I like to think that I have at least heard of established and prolific crime fiction writers worth reading. So I was surprised to read the death notice (in the Mystery Writers of America newsletter) of George C. Chesbro. I had never heard of him. His main series character seems made for my tastes, Dr. Robert Frederickson, also known as Mongo the Magnificent : an ingenious professor of criminology who has a P.I. business on the side; he is also an acrobat, a black belt in karate, a former circus star, and a dwarf.

I went ahead and read the first of the Mongo series, Shadow of a Broken Man (1977). Mongo is hired to investigate the past seemingly accidental death of a celebrity architect, Victor Rafferty. In quick fashion, Mongo discovers strange circumstances around the death and a connected murder. The plot then spins wildly into areas of national security, pitting nations against the United Nations. It also includes elements of parapsychology -- so in its interests and Cold War theme, it is a book of its time. Though it has welcome pulpy and adventure elements, the book is quite serious, and Mongo's dwarfism is never used cheaply. At one point, too, Mongo endures torture and suffers terrible psychological aftereffects. For some readers, this section might be too heavy: a fantastical, though grounded fiction suddenly becomes harrowingly gritty. I plan to read more Chesbro and contemplate why he went out of print and why I had never heard of him before.


Robin said...

Thank you for your kind words regarding George's works. I hope you have had an opportunity to enjoy more of Mongo and Garths' exploits? George would have bee typically humbled by your attentions.

Doug Levin said...

Thanks, Robin. I missed this comment earlier (and should probably see if I can set up comment notification).I subsequently read "The Beasts of Valhalla," which I admired, but found that it became too fantastically wacky. At some point, I'll try to read some of the titles that followed more closely on "Shadow of a Broken Man."