Easy Go, by Michael Crichton writing as John Lange

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These days Michael Crichton is well known as a best selling novelist whose books have used the latest in cutting edge science as a springboard for speculative fiction in titles including The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park and Sphere. The last book published before his untimely death in 2008 was Next which was based n the field of genetic research.

But back in the 1960s, Crichton was just a Harvard medical student doing what he needed to pay the bills, and he did so by writing some plain and simple pulp novels under the pen name of John Lange, the kind of quick reads that would be sold in airports and at convenience stores, and once digested would simply be left behind or tossed away. Uncomplicated fare a world away from the ideas-packed stories that Crichton would later write under his own name, it was decades before the author owned up to these earlier literary outings.

In a sense you can see why: these are very much examples of ‘writing for pay’ rather than because the author is gripped by a fascinating new idea. But that doesn’t mean they’re not any good: on the contrary, you can see clearer here than in many of his latest efforts just what a good, clean, solid writer Crichton was even by his mid-20s, delivering a plain, effective story without any unnecessary frills or diversions.

In the case of Easy Go, the story is kicked off by the discovery of a clue to a lost Egyptian tomb, which leads to a story that is part treasure hunt, part heist. It through a familiar story of the mastermind gathering his eclectic crew together to set off on a covert dig, the idea being not to hand over any priceless discoveries to the Egyptian government a the law demands but instead to rob the tomb for themselves. Will they find the tomb in the first place? Will their plan be uncovered? And if it is, will they all be shot for their crimes?

It’s a great story for an Egyptophile such as myself, full of nice detail about the history of the country and the pharaohs. The descriptions of the country are kept lean but are still evocative, and the characters – while admittedly somewhat drawn from caricature – end up becoming understandable, flawed people that you root for despite knowing that what they’re doing is rather reprehensible. It’s to Crichton’s credit that he does so without making the end result feel too cosy or pat.

It’s certainly an enjoyable read and the new release by Hard Case Crime comes with a suitably pulp painted illustration on the cover and really does bring back the feel and memories of those old pulp paperbacks; sadly they’re not nearly as cheap as they used to be these days. That’s the only complaint I had about Easy Go, which otherwise was great fun to read and a fascinating insight on the early career steps of a man who would go on to become one of America’s best-selling writers.

Easy Go is one of nine John Lange novels published by Hard Case Crime, all available from bookshops. As of time of writing, the company remains resolutely old school and does not produce e-books for its range.

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