A.S. Fleischman,
Danger in Paradise
& Malay Woman
(Stark House, 2010)

If A.S. Fleischman is remembered at all today, it's as Sid Fleischman, the author of kids' books: The Whipping Boy, The 14th Floor: a Ghost Story, The Dream Stealer and about 40 other titles. Before he moved into kids' books, though, he was one of the guys who cranked out a few titles for Gold Medal books, a paperback house that specialized in hard-boiled mystery and suspense novels. His specialty was action set in the Far East and Europe, territories he'd spent time in as a sailor in the navy. Now, Stark House has reissued two of his books in a single volume.

If these two titles are typical, he appears to have specialized in the "one damn thing after another" school of fiction. In Danger in Paradise, a young geologist named Jeff Cape, who has been working in Indonesia, is on his way back to the States when he stops in a bar for a drink before his ship sails from Bali. In the bar, a woman who calls herself Nicole Balashov talks him into smuggling information back to the States with him. Since he stops to chase a man who who is after Nicole, he misses his boat and spends the rest of the novel trying to stay alive and get out of the country. An astonishing set of characters are either trying to kill him or save him -- since few people in a Fleischman novel are actually who they appear to be, it's hard to tell their motives. These people include the mysterious Mr. Chu and his killer serindit bird, Regina Williams, who never bothers to put on a top, and Apollo Fry, who might as well be Sidney Greenstreet stepping out of The Maltese Falcon.

My advice is don't try to keep up; just let the story wash over you and have a good time.

In the companion novel, Malay Woman, a man wrongly suspected of murder stows away on a ship and overhears a plot to kill a woman who owns a rubber plantation. He tries to warn her, but can't because he is wanted for murder himself. Still, he is wildly attracted to her -- in Fleischman novels, the heroes fall in love the moment they see the object of their affections -- so he sticks around to help her, hiding out at the home of his oldest friend. Then it begins to get complicated.

Reading Malay Woman is like taking the water ride in a theme park; you have to immerse yourself in it to enjoy it but the results are more than worth it.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

15 January 2011

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