Written by Gregory Mcdonald — Gregory Mcdonald (1937-2008) was an American journalist and mystery novelist best known for his satirical novels featuring the irreverent journalist Irwin ‘Fletch’ Fletcher. Fletch (1975) was awarded the Edgar for best first novel. Confess, Fletch (1977) then won the Edgar for best paperback original. He also wrote a number of standalone novels, two of which are collected in this omnibus edition from Hard Case Crime.
It makes sense for both Snatched (1978) and Safekeeping (1985) to be brought together since both novels are about the kidnapping of eight-year-old boys. They are, however, sufficient differences between them to avoid a sense of repetition if the stories are read concurrently.
In Snatched, the victim is Toby Rinaldi, son of the ambassador to the United Nations from an obscure Middle Eastern country. He had been dropped off at the airport by embassy staff with the expectation that he would meet his mother, Christina, in California for a holiday. He never arrived. His kidnapping has a political motive – Toby’s father is working on a resolution at the UN to keep the oil flowing and certain parties don’t want this to happen.
The head of embassy intelligence, Colonel Turnbell, is dispatched to hunt for Toby. Meanwhile, the kidnappers have problems of their own – they don’t actually have Toby, he has been snatched by a third party. What follows is a game of bluff and counterbluff as both parties desperately search for Toby, all the while with the clock ticking on the date for the resolution to be implemented.
The second story, Safekeeping, is set during World War II. Robbie Burnes is the son of minor British nobility and has been sent to America after his parents die in the Blitz. His guardian is to be Thadeus Lowry, a journalist with The New York Star, and a man who has never met Robbie before. In fact his only connection with Robbie is the three days he shared with his father when they were both deserters during WWI.
Lowry is more concerned with the journalistic opportunities Robbie represents than with the boy’s welfare, and after writing a human interest piece for the paper about the unfortunate noble orphan, he and his wife send Robbie out alone in New York to find a school to enrol in. Instead he comes into the clutches of an opportunistic kidnapper who, having read Lowry’s piece in the paper, decides that somebody would surely pay a large ransom for a close relative of the King (which is how Lowry had represented him).
As in Snatched, the young boy is easily a match for his kidnappers, and it doesn’t take long for Robbie to escape. The peril to him comes after he witnesses a murder while trying to find his way back to Lowry.
The mystery and crime element is more straightforward here, and less satisfying than in Snatched. The strength of the novel is in Mcdonald’s lampooning of journalistic ethics and his portrayal of American political corruption, which might chime with today’s goings-on.
Snatched is a delight, my favourite of the two novels. Of itself it is worth the price of admission. There is a satisfying mystery, with a spectacular finale in a funfair, but the mot enjoyable thing is the portrayal of Toby and his mother Christina. Toby is almost mature beyond his years, and the way in which he turns the tables on his dim-witted kidnapper is a delight. The quiet, composed boy and the rough young criminal form an odd couple, but by the end have become friends. Christina begins the book as very much on the margins of family and Embassy life, relegated to playing the role of devoted wife and hostess, but by the end has displayed a resilience and resourcefulness which is most pleasing to see.
Taken as a whole, Snatch is an entertaining read, and certainly represents good value for money. Snatched is especially impressive and makes me eager to check out the Fletch books. And, because this is a Hard Case Crime book, there is a lovely illustrated cover to boot.
If you want to check other forgotten or lost books brought back to life by Hard Case Crime, here are our reviews of Sinner Man and The Comedy is Finished. You can also read our interview with HCC founder Charles Ardai here.
Hard Case Crime
CFL Rating: 4 Stars