WILLIAM P. McGIVERN Choice of Assassins

WILLIAM P. McGIVERN – A Choice of Assassins. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1963. Paperback reprints: Bantam F2851, 1964, and Pyramid V3386, 1974. Film: France, 1967, as Un Choix d’Assassins.

   I read William P. McGivern’s A Choice of Assassins back in High School and thought it quite stylish — almost poetic. Fifty years on, a lot of it looks a bit silly, but there’s some interesting stuff nonetheless.

   The plot sounds like David Goodis moved a bit upscale: Tony Malcom, one-time photo-journalist turned Wino in a Spanish resort town finally hits bottom: so desperate for a drink he offers to kill himself in exchange for one.

   The proposition amuses a local bully who gives him the drink and a gun — which misfires at the crucial moment, leaving Malcom owing him a Death. How he repays the debt forms the crux of a story spun out with smuggling, corruption, and easy-going violence.

WILLIAM P. McGIVERN Choice of Assassins

   It’s also filled with patent absurdities. The notion of a bottle-a-day drunk quitting cold-turkey with no unpleasant side-effects carries poetic license a bit far, but no further than a bit later on, where a man who has never fired a gun before puts three bullets in the bad guy’s heart on a dark, wind-swept beach.

   Fortunately, though, there’s enough poetry in Choice to justify the license, specifically McGivern’s role-playing tricks with his cast: A mouthy drunk becomes a silent killer, a prostitute is also a police informant, a bar-keep is an insurrectionist, a peasant becomes a baron, and the local Cop is in business for himself. And in a charming turn, the only “straight” character is a mystery writer whose ruminations on Plot lurch the whole story to a nifty conclusion.