LAWRENCE BLOCK – The Cancelled Czech. Gold Medal d1747; paperback original; 1st printing, 1966. Jove, paperback, 1984. Signet, paperback, 1999. Harper, softcover, 2007.

   The gimmick in the Evan Tanner spy series is that because of a head wound he suffered in the Korean War, Tanner cannot go to sleep. He has used the time that you or I would be sound asleep to read and study and learn about all kinds of handy things, but as gimmicks go, that’s about as far as it does. Maybe it came up more as a device to build a story around in the first book in series, The Thief Who Couldn’t Sleep. In this, the second, it’s barely mentioned in passing.

   What this book does have going for it is the title, which is terrific, even if it doesn’t fit the story, but it’s close, and sometimes that’s all that counts. Tanner is recruited by the unnamed head of the unnamed agency he sees to work for (as for why, perhaps again the first book might prove useful) to enter Czechoslovakia (then solidly behind the Iron Curtain) and rescue a leader of the still existent Nazi cause. He is old and sick, but it seems it would be better to try to obtain the secrets he has hidden away somewhere than to have him be summarily tried and executed.

   Well, OK. It would be also nice to have a plan, but Tanner seems to fly by the seat of his pants, more often than not, easing out of one scrape only to fall into another. One thing that could not have been planned is Tanner’s finding Greta, the girl on the cover, and a Nazi as well as a nymphomaniac. Strangely enough she seems to favor Jews as lovers, as well as Tanner, due to the surgery done to a certain part of their male anatomy.

   And as it happens, Greta turns out to have a crucial part of Tanner’s plan to get his target out of the castle of a prison in which he is incarcerated. I think it helps if you catch on earlier than I did that Lawrence Block is not entirely serious about this affair — which I did at this point I assure you — and to tell you the truth, once Greta’s role is over and she’s dumped from the story, the rest of the tale is simply not nearly as interesting.

      The Evan Tanner series —

The Thief Who Couldn’t Sleep. Gold Medal, 1966.

The Canceled Czech. Gold Medal, 1966.
Tanner’s Twelve Swingers. Gold Medal, 1967.
Here Comes a Hero. Gold Medal, 1968.
Tanner’s Tiger. Gold Medal, 1968.
Two for Tanner. Gold Medal, 1968.

Me Tanner, You Jane. Macmillan, 1970.
Tanner on Ice. Dutton, 1998.