Friday, June 25, 2010

Forgotten Books: MARACAIBO -- Stirling Silliphant

Stirling Silliphant is probably better known for his TV and movie work than for his novels, of which Maracaibo was the first (1954). He created the Naked City TV series and wrote many episodes of Route 66. He was an admirer of John D. MacDonald and wrote the script for the TV movie Travis McGee, based on The Empty Copper Sea. (How successful the movie is, well, that's another question.) His movie scripts include Charly, Marlowe, and The Poseidon Adventure.

And of course you all remember the movie mentioned on the cover of today's Forgotten Book, starring Rock Hudson and June Allyson. Oh, wait. You say you don't remember it? That could be because the movie actually starred Cornell Wilde and Jean Wallace. There's probably a good story there, but I have no idea what it is.

Maracaibo is a very 1950s novel. The reviewers called it "An exciting and fast-paced novel," "off-beat adventure," and "a thrilling story." One said that into this novel Silliphant "has squeezed enough excitement for a thousand pages." I doubt that any current reader would agree. Mostly, the book's a love story about two women, one of them a Pulitzer prize-winning poet, the other, a former prostitute, in love with the same guy, a manly adventurer named Vic, whose job is putting out oil-field fires.

The book's very timely in a way, though, thanks to Vic's job. He's hired to put out a fire in Lake Maracaibo, where the burning well is tapped into the "world's largest oil deposit." And a hurricane is on the way. If the fire's not stopped, it could easily be carried ashore by a hurricane and destroy Maracaibo itself.

While most of the novel is taken up with the love story, and written in that very '50s way, the climax is almost worth the wait. Several attempts to extinguish the fire fail. Vic's going to have to dive and blow it up. The hurricane arrives.

Not a great book, but interesting for a few parallels to current times. I don't really recommend it, but I do recommend some other Forgotten Books by Silliphant, the John Locke adventures Steel Tiger, Bronze Bell, and Silver Star. Those are well worth looking for.

5 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sounds like they went to the B list cast.

Anonymous said...

Maracaibo obviously belongs on the Movie Tie-In Oddity List, along with the Gold Medal Bad Day at Black Rock, which has a two-armed Spencer Tracy on the cover.
Art Scott

Bill Crider said...

I have that Gold Medal, Art.

Patti, I think the got Wilde only because they let him direct and hire his wife as the leading lady.

Todd Mason said...

I think Silliphant might've wanted to be remembered longer for the IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT script than for THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE...I certainly remember him better thus.

The ending sounds almost as OTT as that other petroleum-fueled climax, for ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW...

Well, I guess the paperback publisher (can't make out the logo) was Aspirational, or the agents for Silliphant were...

Bill Crider said...

Todd, Silliphant's scripts covered a lot of territory. The publisher was Popular Library.