JOHN P. MARQUAND – Think Fast, Mr. Moto. Little Brown, US, hardcover, 1937. Robert Hale, UK, hc, 1938. Film: TCF, 1937 (scw: Norman Foster, Howard Ellis Smith; dir: Foster). Reprinted several time in both hardcover and soft, including Pocket #59, June 1940 (shown).

JOHN P. MARQUAND Think Fast Mr Moto

   The film version of Black Magic seemed to have set off a wave of let’s-go-back-and-read-that-again, which washed John P. Marquand’s 1936 novel Think Fast, Mr. Moto up onto the shores of my consciousness.

   Marquand won a Pulitzer for a book nobody reads anymore, and I’m afraid he’ll generally be remembered more for Moto than for Apley. At that, Think Fast is readable enough, fast enough, mildly surprising in its way, and readily forgettable.

   Something about a Nice Young Man coming to Hawaii to untangle the affairs of a distant, hostile and beautiful relative, getting enmeshed with crooks and smugglers and all that sort of thing. It’s the kind of book that can be flatteringly described as Vapid; not bad, really, but remarkably unremarkable.

   I particularly liked the way the characters seemed pulled out of Hollywood B-movies. When Marquand pits his hero and heroine against an amusing gangster, Chinese warlord, sallow Russian and the redoubtable Mr. Moto, one can’t help but picture Bob Cummings, Dolores Del Rio, Lloyd Nolan, Warner Oland, Mischa Auer — and of course, Peter Lorre.

   One thing I found rather disturbing, though: when Marquand wrote this thing, Japan was raping China; they were doing to China what Hitler did to the Jews, in one of the most brutal invasions in history. But in Think Fast, Mr. Moto, the bad guys are all plotting to smuggle supplies to the disparate elements in China fighting the Japanese, and our nice young man helps Mr. Moto put a stop to all this to keep his family from scandal.

   Makes one wonder where Marquand’s moral compass was.