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M.E. Chaber was a pen name--one of several--for the prolific pulp author Kendell Foster Crossen. Perhaps best known for his Doc Savage-esque hero the Green Lama, he also wrote a popular series of well-regarded private eye/spy novels featurin former OSS man and insurance investigator Milo March. In this, the second in the series, Milo is unwillingly recruited by an officious former military colleague to infiltrate East Germany, posing as an American Communist, to kidnap a British scientist who has defected. Milo's banter is appropriately Chandlerian, the sex beckons thoughts of Mickey Spillane and the action is satisfyingly two-fisted. If our hero weren't so anti-Soviet one might even hear echoes of Le Carre. But that last qualifier is maybe the most interesting thing here.

Milo has to bone up on Communism in a hurry if he is to sell his impersonation and his crash course leads him to the following insight:
Like a lot of Americans, I'd always thought I knew all I needed to know about Marxism and communism. I'd had a vague idea that Marx had merely analyzed his contemporary society and prescribed social ownership for the ills of mankind. I'd gone along with the idea that Lenin had been faithful to the vision of Marx and Engels and that Stalin was the betrayer of the Utopian ideal. Now I was learning differently.

The seeds had all been in Marx. Liberals had always aimed at emasculating the state; Socialists such as Marx believed in strengthening the state in order to curb harmful differences. A strong state always meant a strong man. No one saw this more clearly than Nicolai I Lenin. Although he constantly talked of the "state withering away," from the beginning Lenin concentrated on getting more and more power in the hands of the strong man, which was himself. Stalin had only continued to apply the lesson he learned so well from Lenin.

The strength and the great evil of communism was contained in its one basic formula: The end justifies the means.
Basically, for 25 cents, in 1953, the reader was treated to the insight that would bring done the USSR four decades later. Gorbachev and company thought that they could allow some freedom of speech because they expected the critics of the regime to attack Stalin's divergence from the noble principles of the Russian Revolution. Instead, they, like Milo here, went after Lenin and made it clear that the Revolution was rotten at its core, evil at inception.

Just this one section of the novel elevates it from an enjoyable enough but disposable pulp fiction to a genuinely valuable instance of how much better American pop culture understood the Cold War and its stakes than all of Academia and the Military-Industrial complex did, let alone the Kremlin.


Grade: (A-)


See also:

Private Eyes
M. E. Chaber Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Kendell Foster Crossen
    -WEBSITE: The Green Lama
    -FILMOGRAPHY: M.E. Chaber (IMDB)
    -ETEXTS: Crossen, Kendell Foster (Project Gutenberg)
    -ENTRY: Crossen, Kendell Foster (Encyclopedia of Science Fiction)
    -ENTRY: Milo March (Thrilling Detective)
    -ENTRY: Crossen, Kendell Foster (gadetection)
    -ENTRY: Milo March (Spy Guys & Gals)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: No Grave for March
    -PROFILE: Kendell Foster Crossen (Tom Rizzo)
    -BOOK LIST: Milo March: A series by Kendell Foster Crossen (Fantastic Fiction)
    -ARCHIVES: Chaber (Internet Archives)
    -REVIEW: of The Splintered Man by M. E. Chaber (Bill Crider, Mystery File)
    -REVIEW: of Hangman's Harvest by M.E. Chaber (James Reasoner, Rough Edges)
    -REVIEW: of The Tortured Path by Kendell Foster Crossen (Steve, Mystery File)

Book-related and General Links: