Hard Case Crime review: Grave Descend by John Lange (AKA Michael Crichton) (#26/MC7)

26 - Grave Descend by John Lange


But there’s something strange about the wreck of the luxury yacht GRAVE DESCEND. No one who was aboard tells quite the same story about what happened. And then there’s the matter of the mysterious cargo they wre carrying…

In one of the most beautiful places on Earth, a sinister plot is about to unfold. And if McGregor’s not careful, he may find himself in over his head.

In his early days, Michael Crichton published eight novels under the nom de plume John Lange. He described them this way (via the official Michael Crichton site):

“My feeling about the Lange books is that my competition is in-flight movies, ” said Crichton. “One can read the books in an hour and a half, and be more satisfactorily amused than watching Doris Day. I write them fast and the reader reads them fast and I get things off my back.”

Our friends at Hard Case Crime reprinted two of these novels toward the end of Crichton’s life under the Lange pen name, and have recently reprinted all eight for the first time under Crichton’s name. Grave Descend is the seventh of the Lange books.

Grave Descend is an old-school pulp tale, at least a twenty-year throwback already in 1970 when it was published. John Lange doesn’t bother with character development, and that’s quite intentional. Our protagonist, James McGregor, is no white knight, but he’s being sucked into a plot by bad actors, and that’s all you need to know. Any more would leave less room for barroom brawls, ocelots, spearguns, alligators, gun battles, hammerhead sharks, explosions, femmes fatales, and ambushes in the book’s scant length.

Lange has two goals–keep the intrigue up and keep the action moving, with an emphasis on the latter. He is also more successful at the latter, which helps a lot with the great flaws in the former. It’s a Saturday matinee cliffhanger serial for a slightly older crowd, designed to toss up excitement and plot twists at such a dizzying pace that there is little time to contemplate that the master scheme being executed behind the scenes is needlessly complicated and doesn’t make a lot of sense.

This was a nominee for the Edgar Award, which might give you the impression that this is a great mystery. This isn’t a great mystery, or even a good one, but it is a lot of fun in this era of bloated page counts. Sometimes you just want a rollicking adventure, logic be damned. Grave Descend is definitely that.

MC7 - Grave Descend by Michael Crichton, with bonus covers

(Editions image swiped from Gravetapping, which has lots of other good stuff for genre fans.)