I never much cared for Gore Vidal. He always came off as pompous, insufferably elitist, and wore a perpetual sneer directed at all those around him. Bouncing around between novels, essays, plays, and movie scripts, his writing never seemed to gain focus and never appealed to me. So you can imagine my surprise when I received a copy of Thieves Fall Out (from Hard Case Crime, no less!), written by Vidal in 1953 under the pseudonym of Cameron Kay.
Turns out one of Vidal’s earlier novels overflowed with homosexuality, enraging a New York Times book reviewer to the point where he declared he would never review one of Vidal’s novels again, and would encourage other reviewers to join his boycott. Enter Cameron Kay and Thieves Fall Out.
The story is a good one, centering around Peter Wells, an American who wakes up in a Cairo whorehouse after having been drugged and rolled for his money and traveler’s cheques (remember those?). He’s lucky to escape the whorehouse alive, and heads for the US Consulate, where he receives no help at all. Broke and disheveled, he goes to Shepheard’s Hotel, the place “where the biggest operators live” and “where almost anything might happen”.
Well, he meets up with a Brit known only as “Hastings”, who buddies up to him. A few drinks later, Hastings introduces him to a French Countess who offers him the opportunity to make a big score. Just go to Luxor and await further instructions.
This sets the stage for a guy-in-way-over-his-head story which held my attention throughout. Vidal takes us through the Egypt of the early 1950s, the days of King Farouk, before oil held absolute sway over that part of the world. Danger lurks around every corner, alluring women abound, and there’s even the requisite police inspector (named Mohammed Ali !!). The deeper Wells gets into this scheme, the less he knows and the fewer people he can trust, until … well, you’ll just have to read it.
This novel checks all the boxes and adds up to a finely-crafted story, contained behind a seductive cover painting by Glenn Orbik. I didn’t know Vidal had it in him to write such a noirish tale and to do it so well.
Recommendation: buy it. Don’t let any predisposition toward Vidal get in your way. Besides, it’s from Hard Case Crime, so you know it’s got to be good.