In other words, for every one hundred trials, you will succeed eighty-nine times and fail eleven times. In gamblers’ parlance, that makes you an “odds-on” favorite, a proposition on which you would be well-advised to risk money.
But how about risking your freedom? Or your life? Do you still take the bet? How does the eighty-nine percent figure sound now?
That’s what is presented to a trio of criminals in the late Michael Crichton’s smoothly-plotted novel, Odds On (1966), a heist tale set on a small island off the Costa Brava in Spain. The plan is to rob a luxury hotel, not only of the riches kept in its safe, but the cash kept in the rooms of the wealthier guests.
Mastermind Steven Jencks and his two comrades converge separately on the hotel from different cities in Europe. Jencks has it all planned out. He has slaved over a 1966-era computer for many months in preparation for this job — feeding it all the parameters, the likely take, the security aspects, and so on — eventually coaxing the eighty-nine percent figure out of the brainy machine. The computer has spoken. What could possibly go wrong?
Crichton, writing as John Lange for this and several other pulp crime novels in those days, makes good use of a technique wherein many of his characters are introduced individually in different locales, all of them en route to the Spanish hotel. This gives each character sole possession of the page for a few minutes, and the skipping around from character to character as they inexorably make their way to the hotel, builds tension all by itself. Within some of these scenes, there are abrupt point-of-view shifts, a no-no in writing fiction, but they’re forgivable.
Odds On is one of eight different Crichton-Lange novels recently released by Hard Case Crime in conjunction with Titan Books, British publisher. These books show a very different side of Crichton, a side he apparently did not want us to know about, since he used a pseudonym. They bear no resemblance whatever to his later techno-thrillers for which he became famous and which shot to the top of many bestseller lists over the ensuing decades. In any case, Crichton seems to be enjoying himself in this genre. His writing shows a certain snap, a true feel for the material, and he easily escorts the reader through this well-crafted novel. Plus, I didn’t see the ending coming.
Recommendation: Buy it. Besides, it’s from Hard Case Crime, so you know it’s going to be good.