Tue 3 May 2016
by Marvin Lachman:
ROBERT L. FISH – The Green Hell Treasure. Putnam’s, hardcover, 1971. Hardcover reprint: Detective Book Club, 3-in-1 edition. No paperback edition found.
Though the Edgar-winning Fugitive (1962) was the first of ten mystery novels Robert Fish wrote about Jose Da Silva, The Green Hell Treasure is far more typical of the series. Because The Fugitive is about an escaped Nazi war criminal in South America, it is, of necessity, more serious than its successors.
As his series progressed, Fish would make increased use of Brazil, where Da Silva, a police captain, acts as liaison between the Brazilian police and Interpol. The subject matter of his books became more exotic, and humor played a greater role.
Robert L. Fish knew Brazil intimately, having spent more than ten years there as a consulting engineer with a Brazilian vinyl plastics firm. Fish always preferred to use places in which he had lived or traveled as background for his work. Brazil, a combination of virtually impenetrable jungle and modern cities and resorts, is ideal for a man like Da Silva who is at home in any of these settings.
Early books such as Isle of the Snakes (1963) and The Shrunken Head (1963) emphasize the primitive, especially the exotic and dangerous fauna and Indian headshrinkers. Though on the surface detective stories, they are as much thrillers. By the time of The Green Hell Treasure, the series had become a satisfying blend of sophistication and adventure.
Throughout the series, Wilson, an undercover agent at the American Embassy in Rio de Janeiro, plays “Watson”to Da Silva. If their byplay is not quite in the Wolfe-Goodwin class, it is still very witty indeed. In The Green Hell Treasure, they start out in Brazil, as usual, but then travel to Barbados in pursuit of half a million dollars in stolen jewels, the titular treasure.
In an extremely amusing scene, the intrepid Da Silva is transformed into a nervous wreck due to his fear of flying. If the solution is somewhat obvious, the book is resolved in an exciting climax told in almost cinematic language. This is not surprising when one remembers that Fish, under his Robert Pike pseudonym, wrote Mute Witness (1963), which wasadapted to the screen as the very exciting Steve McQueen film Bullitt (1968).
Nor should the humor in The Green Hell Treasure amaze us when one thinks of Fish as the author of The Incredible Schlock Homes and, under another ichthyological pen name. A. C. Lamprey, an amusing series of comic definitions in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine called “Gumshoe Glossary.”
Fish’s other books under his own name are equally diverse. The novels The Hochmann Miniatures (1967), Whirligig (1970), The Tricks of the Trade (1972), and The Wager (1974), and the short-story collection Kek Huuygens, Smuggler (1976).
Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007. Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.