The Action Man and Terror Tournament by Jay Flynn - book review
In two top-drawer crime capers from 1959 and 1961, a fearless, wealthy crook attempts to pull off a multi-million-dollar heist, and a security guard tries to track down thieves and retrieve gate receipts stolen from a pro-amateur golf tournament.
The late John M. Flynn, who published under the names Jay Flynn and J.M. Flynn, was a prolific American author of crime and espionage novels, occasionally contributing Westerns using the house name Jack Slade. In a career spanning from the late fifties to the late seventies, Flynn penned somewhere in the region of thirty novels, mostly for Ace Books, Avon Publications, Leisure Books, and Belmont Tower.
A former US Army soldier and journalist, Flynn started out as a crime reporter for the Portland Express, also contributing to the San Jose Mercury and other California papers. He is perhaps best-known for his five satisfying adventure novels featuring the distinctive character McHugh, a rough, hard-drinking, two-fisted, Irish-American bar owner and secret agent.
McHugh aside, Flynn’s other notable success was his standalone novel The Action Man, a crime caper published by Avon in 1961 and adapted into the French film Le soleil des voyous (The sun of thugs), directed by Jean Delannoy in 1967. It’s a tough, lean, hard-hitting tale about a calculating businessman and his elaborate plan to make off with over two million dollars of Army payroll from a bank in northern California.
The central character, Denton Farr, cut from the same cloth as McHugh, is a smart, bold, tough-talking hard case with an eye for the ladies and a talent for getting what he wants. A legitimate business owner who claims to break no laws ‘except those dealing with adultery,’ Farr has a beautiful wife, no debts, a small factory, a motel, three fishing boats, two bars, a small ranch with horses, and ‘more money than he would ever be likely to need.’
He’s also a successful criminal with close ties to the Eastern crime syndicate who likes to arrange ‘one crime a year’ for the thrill and the challenge, and lives by the basic rules ‘never do the same thing twice’ and ‘never get caught.’
While gazing out of the bedroom window, recuperating after a bout of passion with his man-hungry mistress, Bette Vout, who is his business partner at their dive bar, The Loving Cup, Farr observes soldiers loading money into an armoured car at the bank opposite.
After learning that the Army collects their payroll from that bank every month, he begins studying their routine, gleaning information from off-duty military personnel who drink in his bars and trying to formulate a sure-fire plan to steal the payroll.
He then sets up an observation post in suites above the bank, taps telephone conversations of bank personnel while pretending to be ‘making telephone surveys of the Peninsula area for a national advertising agency,’ and is convinced that with ‘specialised talent’ provided by the syndicate he can pull off the job.
Alas, the Commissioner, the syndicate’s spokesperson, rejects Farr’s plan, fearing the caper would antagonise congressman and jeopardise other ongoing operations.
Thumbing his nose at the Commissioner and the organization, Farr goes ahead with it and enlists the help of Whispering Jim Oxford, a Harvard med school drop-out and former O.S.S. agent, now bartender, whom Farr hasn’t seen since his Army days.
Oxford, a man who takes great pleasure in attacking anything that moves and extracting information from his enemies, helps assemble the rest of their team, none of whom know the full details of the heist.
What follows is a tense, neatly plotted, and ultimately thrilling tale with an impressive, explosive finale, as Farr tries to pull off the lightning-speed, high-stakes theft, throw the police and the FBI off his scent and elude the syndicate.
Terror Tournament, Flynn’s third novel, was first published as a hardback by Mystery House in 1959 and reprinted in paperback by Ace Books as an Ace Double. Like most of Flynn’s novels, it’s a gritty, action-packed drama, heavy on suspense and with a tough lead character on the hunt for a significant amount of money.
The difference here is that the main character, Burl Stannard, a ‘roughneck’ former police lieutenant who resigned amid accusations of brutality and sadism, is looking to recover money, not steal it. He owns a security agency and has been hired to protect the golf tournament proceeds from a major three-day event.
In the exciting opening, while transporting $400,000 to the bank, three thieves in a golf cart attack himself and several off-duty cops he has hired, and get away with the money, killing a cop in the process. With his business and reputation on the line, Stannard goes on a one-man crusade to find the culprits, recoup the money, and discover if this was an instance of thieves getting lucky or an inside job.
This welcome double novel from Stark House also includes, as an introduction, an amusing, revealing, and utterly riveting article on Flynn by his friend, Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Bill Pronzini, which first appeared in Mystery Scene magazine. It’s the perfect companion piece to this pair of scintillating gems pulled from Flynn’s treasure trove of forgotten novels.
(Stark House Press, paperback, Â£15.95)