Monday, April 7, 2008

Zero Cool by John Lange (Hard Case Crime)

If you do the autopsy, we'll have to kill you.

If you refuse to do the autopsy, we'll have to kill you.

What's a vacationing radiologist to do? Dr. Peter Ross is going to find himself very busy over the next few days, involved with so many people, he'll be lucky to make it in time for the radiologists' convention.

Zero Cool is the second John Lange novel (after Grave Descend) to be revived by Hard Case Crime, but it was actually published first originally. It is also, I think, the better-written and more entertaining of the two.

John Lange was the pseudonym for an author who later became a huge best-seller under his own name. I'll hint by saying he's an "admirable" sort of fellow (unless that's a reference too dated for modern readers), but a quick Google search will reveal all.

Events in Zero Cool pile on one another in an almost improvisatory fashion, as if Lange were simply taking dictation from a compulsive liar with A.D.D. The seemingly unplanned nature of it simply means I was unable to predict much of what happened.

Ross hops from Spain to France and back again, mostly against his will, all the while leaving behind what must be the world's most tolerant (and trusting!) girlfriend, a woman he only met days ago on the beach (portrayed in Gregory Manchess's cover painting by model Meredith Napolitano, who is cleverly shown reading a copy of Grave Descend.)

It's a lot of fun, but it's not the best-written book in the world. Its classic pulp adventure–inspired origins shine through brightly, with at least three occurrences of "And then it happened." But the fact that the author added new material for this reprinting makes it just that much more special. The new pieces, a prologue and epilogue that bring the action into the current day, make Zero Cool feel like a new book, even though it's almost 40 years old.

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