Tuesday, July 13, 2010

THE RED MOON by Warren Murphy

Warren Murphy is best known for his The Destroyer series (he co-created it with the late Richard Sapir), but his body of work is impressively diverse. He has authored everything from horror to mystery to suspense to fantasy. He won two Edgar Awards and two Shamus Awards in the 1980s and, while he has been silent for nearly two decades, he is a giant in the field.

I have a weakness for all his work, but I am particularly fond of his suspense novels. I recently read his 1982 novel The Red Moon and it is as exciting, vibrant and interesting today as it must have been when it was published nearly thirty years ago. It seemingly has an interesting history—a history that I am guessing at. It appears to have been written as a novelization for a film that was never released. The copyright holders are Davis/Panzer Productions (a production company that produced the “Highlander” television series) and Stan Corwin Productions.

While the genesis for the novel is somewhat shadowy, the novel is wonderfully so. It chronicles the story of one Christopher Caldwell—a former CIA agent who dropped off the radar when his wife and child were murdered in a car bombing. He is reluctantly pulled back into the clandestine world of murder and betrayal when his father-in-law is found dead in what is ruled a fishing accident. The canvas is broad and it includes World War Two art theft, oil, Iran—it was published a mere three years after the Shah was deposed—greed, secrets and betrayal.

The Red Moon was a paperback original published by Fawcett Gold Medal—a line that has sadly disappeared—and it is very much a novel of its time. The plot is straight out of the 1980s: Nazi hunters, big oil, Mideast plotting, sinister corporations and corrupt politicians. The style is different from many of Warren Murphy’s suspense novels—there is less humor, although he does have some fun with two Israeli Mossad agents who tend to speak with British accents, and it reads something like a contemporary Robert Ludlum novel, less the annoying exclamation marks.

While The Red Moon is different than some of Mr Murphy’s work it is no less entertaining. It is sharply plotted; the story unwinds with just enough surprises to keep the reader wondering. The bad guys are introduced as the story moves forward, and a few are genuine surprises. The prose is simple and effective and the dialogue is expertly used to both explain the characters motives and quicken the pace to the next crisis.

In short, The Red Moon is an entertaining suspense novel. It is large and complicated (376 pages in mass market), but it reads much more quickly than many novels in the genre. It is also one of Mr Murphy’s better suspense novels, which is high praise, and is well worth seeking out a copy.

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