Book Review–Gore Vidal’s lost crime novel “Thieves Fall Out”

Thieves Fall Out

Review by C.J. Bunce

Gore Vidal’s Thieves Fall Out is being re-released by Titan Books after more than 60 years out-of-print, as part of its Hard Case Crimes imprint.  During his lifetime Vidal refused to re-publish Thieves Fall Out, his “lost pulp novel,” thinking it not up to the quality of his later, more serious works.  The both complex and complicated American author of fiction and non-fiction died in 2012.  His estate authorized the release of this novel, which hits bookstores tomorrow, giving readers an opportunity to see a phase in the development of the celebrated writer before he received his fame.

His tenth book and the only novel written under the pseudonym Cameron Kay (after his great uncle), Vidal wrote the crime novel in 1953 while he was in essence blacklisted by a New York Times critic for the then controversial themes in his novel The City and the Pillar.  To make a living he was also writing crime novels as Edgar Box and this novel was written while those mysteries were moderately successful.  Forget about any controversy surrounding this book’s release–if you like pulp crime novels and you’re someone who shies away from the works mainstream audiences gravitate toward–like Vidal’s numerous celebrated works–then Thieves Fall Out just may be the kind of novel you’re after.

Original cover of Thieves Fall Out Gore Vidal as Cameron Kay

Thieves Fall Out is the post-World War II story of an American who finds himself looking for work in Egypt while young German expatriates were reeling from the wartime acts of their elders and the fall of Nazism.  The American becomes a puppet for local Cairo gangster types and has a few romantic encounters as he stumbles into a group of jewel thieves.  Like Michael Crichton’s crime novels (that were also written under a pseudonym and reviewed previously here at and even like Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels (especially with the womanizing leading male), Thieves Fall Out is, on the one hand, another spy-genre novel that you can imagine was just one of hundreds of gobbled up by readers in the 1950s–a quick, easy read.  Its plot and style are familiar–a cocky American attempts to make the world his own despite local cultures and politics and in turn finds himself in over his head through his own missteps.

Like other 1950s pulp novels, the lead character meets women he falls for quickly, and encounters betrayal, false promises, and deception at every turn.  But Thieves Fall Out is better than the average story and it’s easy to see how Vidal would later succeed as an author.  Along with the gritty wartime themes and subtle politics familiar to fans of the classic film Casablanca, Thieves Fall Out also shares elements with Indiana Jones as he confronts the antiquity-seeking Germans in his adventures Who do you trust?  The answer, of course, is the same for Vidal’s protagonist as for Indiana Jones: “Don’t trust anyone.”

King Farouk of Egypt 1938
The wealthy King Farouk of Egypt entering his Mercedes Benz in 1938.

Vidal is well-known for his non-fiction, and the setting and real-world characters reflect his early historical interest.  One player encountered in the novel is King Farouk.  Farouk I of Egypt was the tenth ruler from the Muhammad Ali Dynasty and the last King of Egypt and the Sudan, ceding his power in the summer of 1952.  The setting of a country facing rebellion and a King about to lose his power was ripped from the headlines (and in a timely way mirrors unrest in that nation today).  Farouk’s wealth cannot be overstated.  He owned a collection of Faberge eggs and 8,500 rare coins, including the legendary, ultra-rare 1933 St. Gaudens U.S. $20 gold piece.  So a collection of jewels, high-end automobiles, fine restaurants, and flaunted wealth were truly the stuff of his early 1950s Cairo.

Full of well-written imagery, interesting characters, and details of Egypt in the day (Vidal spent time in Egypt in the late 1940s and so he offers some good first-hand perspective), Thieves Fall Out is an engaging and intriguing novel that most authors would be happy to have in their catalog of works.  Thieves Fall Out will be released Tuesday, April 21, 2015, but can be pre-ordered from here.

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