Monday, January 25, 2010

The Last Score by Charles Runyon

The Last Score by Ellery Queen (penned by Charles Runyon)
Pocket Book 50486, Copyright 1964

In the early 60s, the Ellery Queen machine was spitting out quality mystery yarns that were authored by a hungry group of fine suspense writers. Charles W. Runyon wrote three of them for the establishment. All are excellent, which include "The Killer Touch" (1965) and "Kiss and Kill." (1969) But my favorite is this first one of his three, which takes the reader on a wild ride through the remote areas of 1960s Mexico.

" His attacker was all speed and power. A steel forearm had Reid's nose crushed against his face and his breath cut off; a knife caressed his throat. This is it, this is curtains, Reid thought - no preparation, no warning, the stupid end of a stupid enterprise."

Reid Rance is an adventurer/travel agent who specializes in taking his clients to locations that are far off the beaten paths. One day he gets a visit from May Gibson, the town matriarch of Greengrove, Texas. Mrs. Gibson has an unruly, bratty, and determined high school daughter, who has her mind set on a three-week trip to Mexico. She needs someone who will not only show the beautiful young Leslie the sights, but also one that will play bodyguard. At first Reid wants nothing to do with a "spoiled teen-aged nymphomaniac," but he needs the cash and reluctantly accepts.

Even though both seem to hit it off at the start, Leslie turns out to be a bit wiser than your normal teenager. Bored with seeing the sights, she lays it on Reid what she really wants out of this trip to Mexico, and that is to score some marijuana. After a "dangers of drugs" spiel by Reid, he agrees to help her out and that is when things go bad. Leslie gets kidnapped and Reid must get her back before Mrs. Gibson and the rest of Greengrove, Texas gets wind of it.

I loved the pace of this novel and Runyon keeps the reader glued to the story. He takes us south of the border, through the areas of Mexico's more unglamorous side. Dusty poor villages, shady seaport towns, and a violent ending in the jungle - and mixed in a group of devious drug users that grab at the opportunity to kidnap for ransom... all of this is compelling stuff for a 1964 novel.

Some might find it a bit dated for today and the illegal drug situation is not as violent as what is going on in Mexico now, but it is flawlessly written and it is suspenseful as hell. Reid Rance is a intriguing main character and you can't help but be on his underdog side. Throw in an adrenalin-filled ending, and all I can say is - I really, really enjoyed "The Last Score." (One of the best that came out of this Ellery Queen ghostwritten period.)

Note: If you ever do read "The Last Score," watch out for the outre chapter where Reid Rance is forced to smoke some of that wacky weed. (wow)

4 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Can I link to one of these on Friday?

James Reasoner said...

In one of those odd coincidences, I ran across a copy of THE LAST SCORE at Half Price Books today and bought it, wondering who really wrote it. Now I know!

And it sounds like a good book, too.

Paul D. Brazill said...

What a great blog. I'll be hanging around and catching up on what I've missed.

WalkerP said...

That is such a great set-up. "Will you chaperone my wild nymphomaniac teenage daughter on a junket to Mexico, please?" Would this happen today? Did it ever happen? I'll keep my eyes open for this one.