GIL BREWER – It Takes a Thief #3: Appointment in Cairo. Ace 37600, paperback original, 1970.


   There are a couple of ways I could have begun this review. One, of course, is to start by talking about the TV series this novel is based on. The problem with that is that I’ve never seen an episode of the show, not when it was on (9 January 1968 – 24 March 1970) nor now, even though I bought the complete series when it came out on DVD a couple of years ago, nor even when it’s been shown on the Cozi channel, though if I ever flipped over there when it was on, I’m sure I would. Watch it, that is.

   I’m not sure why that is, but the fault, if fault there is, is mine, I’m sure. I’ve always found the delivery of Robert Wagner, the star of the show, to be both overly glib and overly flat, both at the same time, if that were possible. I realize that I am in the minority on this, since Wagner has always been a very popular TV star, even to the present day, including occasional recurring appearances on NCIS as agent Tony DiNozzo’s father.


   The premise of this older series is that Wagner, playing Alexander Mundy a suave cat burglar (in the obvious Cary Grant mode), is forced to work for the US government in places all over the world where his particular field of expertise would come in useful. What he gets in return is his release from prison, not a very original concept now, but maybe it was at the time. Supervising Mundy (and holding his past over his head) on most of these adventures is Noah Bain, played by Malachi Throne.

   The other way I could have approached this review is by pointing out that this particular book was the last work of crime fiction to appear under famed Gold Medal paperback writer Gil Brewer’s own name. The sad decline of Brewer’s career over the years is chronicled here on the main Mystery*File website by Bill Pronzini, along with an exhaustive list of his (Brewer’s) entire written output.


   But that this book came at the end of Brewer’s career rather than at the beginning does not mean that it is anything but a solid, professional effort. Inept it is most definitely not. Given the restrictions of working within the confines of the TV series, though, I found Appointment in Cairo to be, for the most part, as flat as Robert Wagner’s speech patterns, picking up in excitement a notch or two by story’s end, which includes the same little kind of twistette that tons of TV crime and mystery shows have ended with over the years.

   The story itself, one which I do not believe was adapted from any one of the individual episodes of the series, has to do with “an ancient Egyptian formula for a deadly nerve gas” (quoting from the back cover), and if Mundy doesn’t do something about it, the whole world is in deadly peril.

   As a postscript to myself, I had forgotten until now that Mundy’s father Alistair appeared several times in the third and final season of the series. He shows up in this novel as well, but in the book he is not nearly as interesting as he was on TV, given that there he was played by none other than Fred Astaire.