Review by C.J. Bunce
Every creator had to have their first work. For Michael Crichton, that was Odds On, a heist novel written while he was in medical school, published under the pen name John Lange. Odds On was re-released after nearly 50 years, before Crichton’s death, along with seven other “lost” novels, by Hard Case Crime (check out links below to my previous reviews in the series). Odds On is both a classic product of its time and a study in writing, as we the readers get the benefit of hindsight, knowing what Crichton would later become. In Odds On, we get to see the author begin to establish what would become his own unique storytelling style.
Although this is not Crichton at its best, every newfound Crichton book is a pleasure to read. Some of his John Lange novels have better storytelling than a few of his later pre-Jurassic Park novels. For all the commonality you can find among his five decades of works, the subject of each is varied and his characters also intriguing and different. But Crichton novels often are gripping, unputdownable reads that ultimately fail to deliver a satisfying ending. Odds On shows that quirk was there from day one. Yet, if you’re a fan of the 1960s version of “trashy” pulp novels, with oversexed guys, oversexed gals, and a few crime twists, the ride is a good one. This is the Crichton novel Doubleday rejected for being too “saucy.”
A twist on the pulp trashy novel, sex becomes a factor for each of the main characters in the book, and there are plenty of characters to get to. Odds On follows a mastermind planning a heist of jewelry at a new luxury hotel in Spain. He has enlisted two other men and this new-fangled contraption, a computer, and its “critical path analysis” program, to plan the heist. The only thing the computer doesn’t tell him is he and his men would have better odds at success if they laid off the pregame sexcapades, or the actual habits and patterns of individuals who frequent high-end hotels. Crichton deserves some credit–this is not the misogynistic fare of Ian Fleming and other contemporaries. Sure, some of his characters are drooling, brainless Neanderthals, but the women all are strong, defiant, and intriguing in their own ways. Crichton was certainly ahead of his time in this genre. Unlike his later works, his leads are not as fleshed out as his supporting characters, here that’s four very different women who drive the story forward and keep the reader engaged until the final chapter.
For writers and prospective writers, Odds On should be a great source of optimism. I’ve read dozens of first efforts that were far better than Crichton’s first. Clearly with practice–and only a few more novels under his belt during his college days–he was able to become the bestseller we know him as. This is not a bad novel, and not a bad first novel. It’s a worthy look at Crichton before he carved his niche drawing a group of experts together to solve a common problem. A reader can easily see why someone in 1965 would have been waiting for the next John Lange novel.
Michael Crichton’s first novel Odds On, originally released under his pen name John Lange, is available in paperback here at Amazon. Previous reviews of Michael Crichton works can be found here at borg.com at these links:
Posthumously Published Novels: