Tag Archive: lost Michael Crichton novels


Zero Cool cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

Just two years before he would become a well-known breakout author with 1971’s Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton wrote his fifth novel under the pseudonym John Lange, Zero Cool.  This is one of eight novels Crichton wrote in his medical school days reprinted in a new edition thanks to Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime series, and it is second in our series of reviews of these classic, “lost” novels.

Zero Cool is definitely a product of the late 1960s.  Unlike Crichton’s bulky, techno-babble filled later works, Zero Cool reads like a quick pulp novel you’d read years ago on the Greyhound bus between towns.  Completely escapist fun, its hero, American radiologist Peter Ross, is visiting places you might find in an Ian Fleming James Bond novel or Michael Dibdin’s Zen novels, and there are plenty of luxurious European settings he finds himself in over the course of the book. Crichton’s writing is tight and he seems to be close to mastering his pattern for storytelling, mixing otherwise unrelated worlds that culminate with some strange resolution you can’t see coming.

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Scratch One cover by Orbik

Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’re like this reader, you probably thought you read the last of the catalog of Michael Crichton novels when you finished his last novel, Micro, reviewed here at borg.com last year.  But what if there were eight Crichton novels that suddenly appeared, as if by magic, that you had never heard of?  The “lost” Crichton novels?  For fans of Crichton (who died in 2008) and his bestsellers like Jurassic Park, Sphere, Disclosure, and Rising Sun, it’s practically a dream come true.  Diehards may have heard of these eight novels published in the late 1960s, written while Crichton was in medical school, all under the pen name John Lange and all long out of print and nearly impossible to find.

Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime imprint worked with Crichton in his last years to re-edit, re-write a few chapters, and then finalize a new printing of all eight novels, with interesting and catchy titles Odds On, Scratch One, Easy Go, Zero Cool, The Venom Business, Drug of Choice, Grave Descend, and Binary, and all with great new pulp art covers by Glen Orbik.  We plan to review them all here, and today we begin with Crichton’s second published novel, Scratch One, originally published in 1967, but available next week in bookstores.  It’s not yet known if re-releases of two other early works by Crichton, A Case of Need, written as Jeffery Hudson, and Dealing, written as Michael Douglas, will be forthcoming.

Scratch One first edition

Scratch One follows Roger Carr, an American lawyer who has been assigned the posh job of acquiring a half-billion dollar villa in France for a wealthy client.  It’s the type of job Carr is used to as the son of a senator without any other particular value to his firm.  It allows him to maintain a playboy’s lifestyle on the French Riviera and other lavish European locations and use his charisma to land a new lady friend at every stop along the way.  But where Carr sounds like he could be James Bond, he also has no particular skill as a spy or assassin.  That’s relevant because Carr stumbles into a scenario that could be found in an Ian Fleming novel.

Carr in every way is “the Man who Knew Too Little.”  Unfortunately he just happens to look like a real spy being sought by a league of murderers trying to prevent an arms deal with a faction in the Middle East.  Their method of stopping the deal is plucking off one by one key players in Egypt, Portugal, Denmark, and France, and murdering a popular race car driver at the famous annual Grand Prix–a driver who is a wealthy man in his own right who, as part of his side activities, mixes with arms dealers.

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