Friday, April 22, 2011

Forgotten Books: A Touch of Danger -- James Jones

When I was a mere youth, there were three books about WWII (The Big One) that everybody was reading: The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, Battle Cry by Leon Uris, and From Here to Eternity by James Jones. All three have more or less faded into obscurity, or so it seems to me, along with their writers (especially hard to believe in the case of Mailer, but I don't hear much about him anymore). When it comes to true obscurity, though, there's Jones's private-eye novel, A Touch of Danger, which I first read more nearly 40 years ago.

You can see from the blurbs I've printed for you that some people liked the book, and it almost certainly has the distinction of being one of the longest private-eye novels ever published (350 pages of tiny print in the Popular Library edition pictured here). Frank "Lobo" Davies is vacationing on a small Greek island courtesy of a satisfied client. The place is crowded with hippies (the novel is very much of its time) and the idle rich. Lobo doesn't like the hippies, except for one beautiful girl. He doesn't like the idle rich much, either, except for one beautiful woman. Things move along, but I wouldn't say there was a "relentless pace" as one of the reviewers does. The first body doesn't turn up until page 110. This is one of those books that I think would have been better if trimmed a lot.

It's clear from the book's structure and its following of the conventions that Jones had read a lot of crime fiction, and the mystery is a good one, if a bit drawn out. In fact, spotting them was one of the pleasures of rereading the book.

It was fun to visit the '70s again, and Jones's use of local color is excellent. I don't know if Jones had any intention of making Lobo Davies a series character, though it seemed likely to me back in 1974 or so that he would. He died young, however, and if he'd planned a second book about Davies, he never got around to writing it. There's a more detailed discussion of the book and what Jones was up to here. Check it out.


Anonymous said...

Good choice. I read this in 1974 too and liked it as much as you did, though I doubt I'd reread it today. I remember thinking it could make a series. Unlike so many "name" writers, you didn't feel Jones was slumming when he wrote this.


George said...

I have a copy of A TOUCH OF DANGER around here somewhere. You review inspires me to go look for it.

wayne d. dundee said...

I remember A TOUCH OF DANGER very well and very fondly. I thought it was on a par with just about anything else being done in the detective genre at that time. There's nothing flashy about Jones's writing style, but that's okay --- it gets the job done just fine. I was hoping for a series of Frank "Lobo" Davies books but, alas, that didn't happen ... Thanks for calling attention once again to this fine book, Bill. I think it may have inspired me - like George - to go dig out my old copy and give it another read.
Persevere --- WD

James Reasoner said...

I remember reading this when it was new and liking it a lot.

Todd Mason said...

Well, bloated novels help keep people from reading or talking about one after one has died and no longer can attack one's wife or yell at or get yelled at by Dick Cavett.

I dunno..I get the sense that most writers, even when they used the pseuds, weren't slumming so much with crime fiction or sf, and the better ones even with the erotica back when those books got no respect.

I think you meant to write "wouldn't say there's 'a relentless pace'..."

MP said...

I remember reading this and thinking it was pretty good, although I remember absolutely nothing about it. In fact, I was a pretty avid Jones fan, and am probably among the few people on earth who actually read his 1200+ page second novel, "Some Came Running". Can't say I'd recommend it, but the movie is good.

Thomas Miller said...

I read "From Here to Eternity" around 1980 and absolutely loved it. After that, I remember seeing "A Touch of Danger" in hardcover at the Park Place branch of the Houston Public Library, but I can't for the life of me remember if I ever read it or not.