DONALD STOKES – Captive in the Night. Coward-McCann, hardcover, 1951. Signet 1006, paperback, 1953; cover by James Meese. Crest #126, paperback, March 1956. Wildside Press, trade paperback, 2020.

   â€œLightning ripped silently along the crystalline horizon, where the Mediterranean met the farthest fringe of the stars. Hansen waited for the thunder to follow, tensing himself, to release the pent up urge for action. Instead there came another stab of white weak against the moon. Just like the ack ack when he was first here, thought Hansen.”

   Hansen is Blair Hansen, and here is Algeria. Eight years earlier he was there with the American Army in intelligence. Now he is back, contracted by the fat shady man named Kuhn (think Sidney Greenstreet crossed with Peter Lorre and maybe Eric Pohlman) he first encountered earlier, to get the ore from Kuhn’s iron mine out of a Berber valley under the control of the rebels led by Messali Haji and his men against the French colonizers.

   Blair is there too because of Mari, a woman he knew eight years earlier who betrayed him.

   Even before he can see Kuhn, a woman tries to trap him and Hansen has to deal with two Arabs sent to see why he is there. He doesn’t get along much better with the police, the Brigade. In the best tradition he has walked into a hornet’s nest, one part Warner Brothers movie, a little Beau Geste, and more than a little Mickey Spillane thrown in with a touch of Post War realpolitik and cynicism.

   The local color is well done if laid on a bit thickly, and the tough guy stuff rings true with our “hero” tough as a rusty nail and just about as toxic.

   If you like your action tough and relentless, your heroes unsentimental sociopaths, the action unrelenting, and no one particularly innocent, this is the book for you. Reading it you can just about cast the movie in your head.

   It’s not always pleasant, but it is vividly written, tough minded, and for all the romance of exotic settings and high adventure as hardboiled as anything you are likely to read:

   Mari took a perverse pleasure in making him show his power. “You would not insult me,” she said, “if I were not a widow, all alone, and without anyone to defend me.”

   He laughed, and the deep sound had a ragged edge to it. “You’re about as helpless as a rattlesnake,” he said. Against his drawn skin, his teeth showed startlingly white and sharp, especially the incisors.

   It’s all basic Hollywood action movie 101, but not bad for that. The action moves at a pace, the dramas of several characters weave in and out of the plot including Mari’s adult daughter Celeste and her husband George, and our hero gets by on toughness and an unwillingness to die.

   The cover of the paperback edition from Fawcett Crest is a doozy too, the perfect evocation of the novel.