Friday, July 23, 2010

Forgotten Books: THE GREATEST CRIME -- Sloan Wilson

In the 1950s, Sloan Wilson wrote a couple of books that everybody knew about. Probably most people remember The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, which became so famous both as a book and as a movie that its title became a catch-phrase. Even people who hadn't read the novel or seen the movie knew it and had an idea of what it meant.

Not as many people know that Wilson also wrote A Summer Place. It was also hugely successful as both a book and a movie (having teen hearthrobs Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue probably helped) and made Sloan Wilson indirectly responsible for one of my least favorite #1 hits, the execrable "Theme from a Summer Place," which is even now, after 50 years, inescapable on oldies stations.

After those two big hits, Wilson continued to write for many years without attaining nearly the success his earlier books had. He tried The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit II in 1984, but it didn't help. In his last years (he died in 2003), he was writing biographies and yachting articles.

A couple of Wilson's later books were thrillers, sort of, and The Greatest Crime is about a seaman named Andy Anderson. He's good with boats, and he's worked for the Clayton family a number of times over the years. Now the younger Clayton, Tad, wants to get Andy involved in a really big drug deal. Just do one and retire for life. A billion-dollar deal. Eventually Tad's father gets into the act because he's the only one with the money and contacts to pull off a deal like that. Andy struggles to find his moral center, and this being a Sloan Wilson novel, there's no doubt that he will.

Wilson knows the sea and boats, and the details of the drug deal are obviously thoroughly researched. The action isn't up to the standard of a current thriller, but this isn't about action. It's about character. There's even a clearly stated moral at the end. A good, solid book, the kind they don't write anymore because there's no market for books like this. Kind of sad in a way.


8 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Loved his books as a teenager and I still have a reissue of MAN on my TBR pile.

Todd Mason said...

A cut below a typical, say, John O'Hara? I definitely hadn't thought about his career post-FLANNEL...

Anonymous said...

What do you have against "Theme from A Summer Place"?

Signed,

Confused

Bill Crider said...

Well, Confused, it's hard to say other than that I just don't like it. At all.

Todd, ICE BROTHERS is an even better book, and more of a thriller, too.

George said...

I've seen this Sloan Wilson book at library sales. ICE BROTHERS, too. I'll have to scoop them up next time.

Richard R. said...

Not sure about this book, the only Wilson I've read is Grey Flannel Suit. Or did I just see the film? Not sure.

but I just heard "Theme From A Summer Place" yesterday in a restaurant, and stopped eating for a second, sighed, said softly to no one "Ah, Theme From A Summer Place!" and listened until something else came on. I was a teen and back then, for me, it was romantic, a love song. I've always liked it. Just a matter of opinion, I guess.

Kent Morgan said...

I've got this book somewhere, probably in a box, and I remembered reading when I saw the cover. But the plotline doesn't ring any bells. As for Summer Place, that's one song that the announcers on our nostalgic station, who are former DJS from that era, thankfully seldom play. One song I even hate more is Tammy by Debbie Reynolds.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Agree on :Tammy," but I like "Theme from a Summer Place." The musical version, that is. Not as fond of the vocal.