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Tag Archive: lost Crichton novels


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.

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Grave Descend Hard Case cover

Reviewed by C.J. Bunce

Grave Descend was penned in 1970, the penultimate novel Michael Crichton wrote under the pseudonym John Lange back in his med school days, re-released thanks to Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime series after years out of print.  We previously reviewed his Scratch One and Zero Cool here at borg.com.  Before the days of stories centered on a group of disparate scientists thrown together to solve an impossible and often unbelievable problem, Crichton tried his hand at adventure novels that borrow more from Ian Fleming than science fiction.

In Mad Men fashion his work included the arrogance and womanizing of pulp novels of the day, and early Crichton protagonists were often American wannabe James Bonds.  His leads are not spies but experts in something, for example lawyer Roger Carr in Scratch One and radiologist Peter Ross in Zero Cool, each dropped into an adventure they didn’t ask for, Carr mistaken for a spy and Ross forced to violate his ethics in a strange way.  In Grave Descend we catch up with Jim McGregor, a deep-sea diver hired to retrieve objects from a multi-million dollar yacht sunken off the coast of Jamaica.  But he quickly notices oddities related to his new project and the man who hired him.

pulp Grave Descend

Here Crichton returns to a setting of Fleming’s expertise, that Caribbean island that Bond frequents in several novels, including Casino Royale and Doctor No, also reviewed here previously.  Like Fleming, Crichton presents a realistic Jamaica, from its denizens kicking back Red Stripe beer to its seemingly never-changing, sharply divided social strata, to its sand to forest variety of natural landscapes.

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