Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Star Trap by Robert Colby

The Star Trap by Robert Colby
Gold Medal 1043, Copyright 1960

Robert Colby was one of those authors that never got the fame and recognition that he deserved. His 1959 novel, “The Captain Must Die” was one of the first Gold Medal books that I ever read. I picked it up because I thought it was a war story, ‘course it turned out to be one of GM’s best novels - involving three men seeking violent revenge years after the war, towards a man who they thought wronged them. Two other Gold Medal entries from 1959, “Secret of the Second Door” and “The Deadly Desire” also captured the author’s ability to build a highly suspenseful noir story in just under 130 pages. All are quick page turners that will compel the reader to continue on until the end. The same could be said of Colby’s fourth Gold Medal novel “The Star Trap,” where after aiding a voluptuous beauty, a respectable young man gets caught in a dragnet of deception and murder.

She wore the same turquoise wool-knit suit in which I seen her last. And she managed to look just as beautiful in it, though her face was staining with tension. The sight of her gave me a moment of relief, disturbing the old longings. The feeling passed in an instant and I hated the bitch.

In the middle of the night, struggling B actor Glenn Harley gets a hysterical phone call from starlet Nancy Rhymer. She needs Harley to come over to her house immediately. Harley, who always has secretly longed for Nancy Rhymer, jumps out of bed and drives quickly to her home. Once there, he discovers she has knifed a semi-famous actor to death “in self defense” and needs Harley’s help to clean things up to protect her from scandal. His affection for the actress is too strong to refuse and he ends up burying the corpse along with it's belongings. Of course as he is digging the grave, we know he is actually digging himself deeper and deeper into a world of blackmail, disloyalty, and hunted persecution.

A few days later Nancy Rhymer flees from sight and Harley learns that the dead actor had $350,000 on him. The money belongs to a crooked independent film producer, who along with a couple of dirty cops, has been blackmailing Hollywood hotshots in a sex ring setup. Harley goes back to where he buried the man and finds the corpse gone. Suspecting that the Rhymer girl took the cash and is using him, he heads back to his apartment where the two dirty cops are waiting and play rough with him. Later, the two rogue cops conveniently find the dug up body in Harley’s car trunk. Thinking that he has the loot, the dirty cops pressure Harley to turn it over and if he does they will forget about finding the corpse. But he doesn't have it and escapes. This becomes a major headline story and now he is a fugitive, on the run for murder. Harley has to go it alone to get the evidence to clear his involvement and he does it by devising a sneaky little scheme.

Colby had a masterful way to developing a suspense filled plot, and doing it he created pockets of enriching text. It could be as simple as when Glenn Harley is describing his current position as an actor in the business, “I got parts. But I always felt they were handouts.” Or deeper, like his assertion of another actress who resorted to the casting-couch route, “She was one of the lost ones on the same road to oblivion all of us are traveling. But like so many escaping in the labyrinth of sensual amorality, she had more heart than guile, more warmth than a host of virtuous pretenders I have known.” Half the enjoyment of a Robert Colby story is the descriptive discourse between the protagonist and reader. And when he throws in an atmosphere of noir and unbridled tension, you have an exciting mystery/crime novel written by an author that will have you hunting down more of his work.

If you never read a Robert Colby novel, the Gold Medal books are the place to start. But don't overlook his other novels that were printed by many of the quality paperback publishers of the day. Even in the ACE Doubles, where many of their stories are below average for this genre, the four Colby novels are some of the best that the publishing company put out. And if you’re lucking enough to stumble on one of Robert Colby’s many short stories that appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in the 60s and 70s, I guarantee you will be rewarded if you check them out.


Scott D. Parker said...

I did a double take on the author's name before I realized I was thinking of the Colby character from David Dodge's Plunder of the Sun.

Enjoyed this review and appreciated the background of this Colby. And I like how the story just turns in on itself with twists and turns galore. The pure essence of pulp fiction.

The more I learn about the Gold Medal books, the more I come to realize that they published few duds. And they published books that seemed always to clock in between 130 and 180 pages. Paperback prices being relative, I can't help but wonder why there isn't a line (other than Hard Case Crime) doing cheaper paperbacks nowadays. Is it just the higher cost of every facet of the publishing world that does in such a cheap book? If so, then I still believe that e-fiction, someday, will take up that spot.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Jeebus Keerist you make a man want to read a book!

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

I collect Gold Medal stuff but don't have this book. A great in depth review. This blog is an essential browse.

Ed Gorman said...

Thanks for promoting Bob Colby.You're right--he never got his due. He was a fine writer and a fine man.