Wed 19 Nov 2008
GEORGE C. CHESBRO – Shadow of a Broken Man. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1977. Paperback reprints: Signet, 1978; Dell, 1987.
This is the first Chesbro novel featuring Dr. Robert Fredrickson, a professor of criminology who doubles as a private detective, is a dwarf, and is known to his friends as Mongo. A onetime top circus performer, Mongo possesses some very useful skills for tight situations, among them tumbling and gymnastic ability and a black belt in karate.
While preparing to leave for vacation in Acapulco, Mongo is approached by Mike Foster, who married the widow of famous architect Victor Rafferty. Foster’s wife, Elizabeth, happened to see a photograph of a new museum in an architectural magazine, and is convinced that the design is the work of her husband.
But Victor died five years ago, and the museum’s design is listed as the work of a man named Richard Patern. Victor Rafferty died from a fall into an open smelting furnace, so there was essentially no body to be recovered, and Elizabeth is haunted by the conviction that Rafferty is still alive. Mike Foster’s marriage is suffering; he wants Mongo to clear up this matter so he and Elizabeth can get on with their lives.
Mongo assumes there won’t be too much complication here, so he postpones his vacation and accepts the case. His first move is to consult professor of design Franklin Manning, resident architectural genius, who flatly tells Mongo that the museum is Rafferty’s design, without question.
And suddenly Mongo is involved in something much more complex and dangerous than he imagined. Russian and French agents are part of the package, as are U.N. Secretary Rolfe Thaag and more than one victim of Communist brutality.
The writing here is literate and fast-paced, the plot is intricate, the concept is bizarre yet entirely plausible. This is a well-spiced recipe that results in haute cuisine.
Chesbro is also the author of City of Whispering Stone (1978), An Affair of Sorcerers (1979), and The Beasts of Valhalla (1985), which likewise feature Mongo.
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.
GEORGE C. CHESBRO, R. I. P. On a sad note to go with this review, news of George Chesbro’s passing is making the rounds of the mystery fiction blogs today. The best reportage, as usual, is on The Rap Sheet, including some of Jeff Pierce’s personal remembrances of the author. — Steve