Wednesday, July 10, 2013

THE RED MOON by Warren Murphy

Warren Murphy is best known for his The Destroyer series (he co-created it with the late Richard Sapir), but his body of work is impressively diverse.  He has authored everything from horror to mystery to suspense to fantasy.  He won two Edgar Awards and two Shamus Awards in the 1980s and, while he has been silent for nearly two decades, he is a giant in the field (at least on my bookshelf).

I pretty much enjoy all of his work, but I am particularly fond of his suspense novels.  I recently read his 1982 novel The Red Moon and it is as exciting, vibrant and interesting today as it must have been when it was published more than thirty years ago.  And the book itself seemingly has an interesting history—a history I am only guessing at.  It appears to have been written as a novelization for a film, which was never released.  The copyright holders are Davis/Panzer Productions (a production company that produced the “Highlander” television series) and Stan Corwin Productions.

While the genesis for the novel is somewhat shadowy, the novel is wonderfully shadowy.  It chronicles the story of one Christopher Caldwell—a former CIA agent who dropped off the radar when his wife and child were murdered in a car bombing.  He is reluctantly pulled back into the clandestine world of murder and betrayal when his father-in-law is found dead in what is ruled a fishing accident.  The canvas of the story is broad and it includes a World War 2 art theft, oil, Iran—it was published a mere three years after the Shah was deposed—greed, secrets and betrayal.

The Red Moon was a paperback original published by Fawcett Gold Medal and it is very much a novel of its time.  The plot is straight out of the 1980s: Nazi hunters, big oil, Mideast plotting, sinister corporations and corrupt politicians.  The style is different from many of Warren Murphy’s suspense novels—there is less humor, although he does have some fun with two Israeli Mossad agents who tend to speak with British accents, and it reads something like a contemporary Robert Ludlum novel, less the exclamation marks!

While The Red Moon is different than some of Mr Murphy’s work it is no less entertaining.  It is sharply plotted; the story unwinds with enough surprises to keep the reader wondering.  The bad guys are introduced as the story moves forward, and a few are genuinely surprising.  The prose is simple and effective and the dialogue is used expertly to explain the characters motives and quicken the pace from crisis to crisis.

The Red Moon is an entertaining suspense novel.  It is large and complicated (376 pages in mass market), but it reads better and more swiftly than many of the genres novels.  And while its style is just a shade different than most of Mr Murphy’s suspense novels it is also one of his better, which is a big statement since much of his work is pretty awesome.  

This review originally appeared on the now defunct blog Dark City Underground July 13, 2010 in slightly different form.  I will be moving a few other reviews from DCU to Gravetapping over the next several weeks.

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