review of Max Allan Collins's "Flying Blind""
2104. "review of Max Allan Collins's "Flying Blind""
- the complete version of my review
- credited to: tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE
- published on my "Critic" website on August 25, 2022
Max Allan Collins's "Flying Blind"
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - August 22, 2022
I've been systematically going thru my personal library of crime fiction & reading a bk each by authors that I haven't previously read anything by. This one intrigued me b/c it uses the disappearance of Amelia Earhart as its mystery. The publisher's logo wasn't familiar to me so I looked to see what their name is &, Lo & Behold!, it's from "amazon encore" from 1998. That surprised me, I don't remember Amazon being around 24 yrs ago.
"Although the historical incidents in this novel are portrayed more or less accurately (as much as the passage of time, and contradictory souce material, will allow), fact, speculation, and fiction are freely mixed here; historical personages exist side by side with composite characters and wholly fictional ones-all of whom act and speak at the author's whim." - p -v
""I think it's too bad when aviation movies depend for their excitement on plane wrecks and lost fliers and all that sort of thing. Perhaps that's good drama but it certainly isn't modern aviation."
"-Amelia Earhart" - p -iv
The reader is introduced to the detective:
"But at age sixty-four (with sixty-five a few months away), I didn't need to work. My one-room agency in Barney Ross's old building on the corner of Van Buren and Plymouth, established in 1932, had turned into suites of offices in six cities now, not to mention two floors of the Monadnock Building. I wasn't President of the A-1 anymore, but Chairman of the Board. We no longer did divorce work; our specialties were "anti-industrial espionage" and "security consultation." I had become so successful, I didn't recognize my own business." - p 2
I wonder, were there ever detectives as they're depicted in detective novels? Do they still exist? I have a friend who worked for a detective, he was pd to do things like check client's phones for tapping. The thing is, the detective didn't have a clue about how to do that & just gave my friend vague instructions about how to fake it & then lied to the client. The Pinkertons, arguably the most famous 'detective' agency, were basically goons-for-hire whose job it was to break up strikes. I think most people find the myth of the hard-boiled detective very appealing: someone who's able & intelligent enuf to tough out any challenge to see that crimes are prevented &/or solved. But is that entirely a romantic myth? Certainly there're police detectives, I reckon they solve crimes from time-to-time - probably largely thanks to forensics & vast databases. But ones independent of the poilce? Insurance investigators? They exist.. but wd I trust one?! Nope. How many of them are honest & not motivated by the profit interests of the companies they work for? Not many, if any, I reckon. At any rate, these fictional detectives are fun.
""Mind if I sit myself down?"
""Who else is gonna do it for you?"" - p 4
I seriously doubt that there's ever been a real-life detective to match the wit & wisdom of the fictional ones.
"["]There was a time you gave plenty of interviews, droppin' all them famous names."
""Stirring up business." I shrugged.
"He made a click in his cheek, and his words made me sound like a pecan pie he liked the taste of. "Crony of Frank Nitti and Eliot Ness alike. At the Biograph when Dillinger got his. Pal of Bugsy Siegel's." He shifted his body from side to side, like he was really settling into this one-way conversation. "Were you really one of Huey Long's bodyguards, night they plugged him?"" - pp 5-6
""You know what they say-Semper Fi, Mac. Guadalcanal, weren't you?"
"I thought about cold-cocking him, but only nodded.
""Got out on a Section Eight, I understand. Funny. You don't look like a nutcase to me."
""You might be surprised."
""Of course, according to that Look magazine article, it was battle fatigue. They even made you sound like a kind of hero, holdin' off the Japs in a foxhole with your boxer pal, Barney["]" - p 7
I reckon there're other Nathan Heller detective novels written before this one that this history is a recap of. If I ever find them used I reckon I'll buy them & add them to my more-or-less-impossible-to-read-in-my-lifetime pile. Then, when I get so old everybody takes it for granted that I must be dead by now I'll have plenty of reading to keep me distracted while I very slowly starve to death.
"I know you were her bodyguard for a while, in what, 'thirty-five? Least they didn't bump her off under your nose, like they done with Mayor Cermak and the Kingfish."" - p 8
Oohh!! I just love it when something referred to in a bk I'm reviewing gives me an excuse to quote from something else I wrote:
"Giuseppe Zangara was forced by poverty into harsh labor (that contributed to a painful stomach condition) by age 6. He'd wanted to kill "that no good capitalist Herbert Hoover in Washington" but settled for attempting to kill President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt out of convenience. While FDR was visiting Miami, Zangara shot at Roosevelt from a poor vantage point & killed Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak instead. "A sanity commission that examined him avoided the sanity issue and referred only to his rejection of social standards - the 'distortions' of judgment (for example, capitalists are bad) combined with his at least average intelligence as evidence of a 'psychopathic personality.'"! I think a much better psychoanalytic case could be made that ALL prosecutors are SOCIOPATHS - people willing to push for the death of ANYONE (guilty or not) in order to advance their political & economic careers. Look at people like Philly DA Lynn Abraham for a case in point. To call someone a "psychopath" for thinking that capitalists are bad when they've been forced into hard labor at age 6 by a capitalist society is really going out on the propaganda limb."
Now that's from an article of mine called "Recommended Reading" that was published in my anarchist magazine Street Ratbag 5. It was also published in my writing section on Goodreads but they're getting rid of that (if they haven't done so already). Assholes.
Heller interviewed a witness who may've seen the vanished Earhart's plane in storage:
"["]we heard an explosion, over at the airfield. Bunch of us went over there and this plane, a Lockheed Electra, civilian plane, was the hell on fire. Like somebody'd poured gas on and lit her up like a bonfire. Still, I could make out an ID number-NR16020-which meant nothin' to me at the time."
"That was the registration number of Amelia's Lockheed Electra, the one she'd taken on her final, ill-fated flight around the world." - pp 11-12
""I think somebody was destroyin' evidence. That fella I saw? In the white shirt? He had a real familiar face. I recognized him from the papers, or anyway I knew I should have recognized him from the papers. He was somebody."
""Did it ever come to you, who he was?"
"He snorted a laugh. "Only the goddamn Secretary of the Navy. Remember that guy? James Vincent Forrestal!"" - p 12
There's a loaded name, dropping that in is bound to get a rise out of suspicious historians (sometime erroneously called 'Conspiracy Theorists').
"Forrestal was intensely hostile to the Soviet Union, fearing Communist expansion in Europe and the Middle East. Along with Secretary of State George C. Marshall, he strongly opposed the United States' support for the establishment of the State of Israel, fearing that this would alienate Arab nations which were needed as allies, and whose petroleum reserves were vital for both military and civilian industrial expansion."
"Thereafter, Forrestal's mental health rapidly deteriorated, declining to the point in which he underwent medical care for depression. While a patient at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Forrestal died from fatal injuries sustained after falling out a sixteenth floor window."
Of course, you'd have to be a 'Conspiracy Theorist' to even suggest that Forrestal was pushed out the window. Still, a word to the wise: if you're privy to secrets that the government wd wish you to not share & you find yourself on the wrong side of the administration, ahem, don't allow yrself to be hospitalized above the 1st floor.
Earlier, Heller gets hired to be Earhart's bodyguard by her husband:
"George Palmer Putnam, formerly of G. P. Putnam's publishing, part-time consultant to Paramount Pictures, full-time husband and manager of Amelia Earhart." - p 23
Historical figure name-dropping is part of the fun of reading this.
""Ben?" I asked. "Which Ben told you about me?"
""Hecht," Putnam said, and at first I thought he said "Heck," which was better than "fucking." "Aren't you and Ben Hecht old friends?"
""... Yeah,. Sort of..." Former newsman Hecht, who'd long since traded Chicago for Hollywood, had been part of the Bohemian coterie that used to hang around my father's radical bookshop on the West Side, when I was a kid. "How do you know him, G. P.?"
""I published his first novels," Putnam said" - p 30
Hecht is one of the many authors that I've intended to read something by w/o ever doing so. This is yet-another impetus in that direction.
Putnam partially justifies hiring Heller as Earhart's bodyguard w/ tales of sabotage.
""Please understand," Putnam said, his pudding finished long ago, "there's a history of sabotage, where female fliers are concerned. During the first Women's Air Derby, Thea Rasche got a note with cut-out words like the ones A. E.'s been receiving and got grounded with sand in her fuel tank . . . the rudder cables of Claire Fahy's plane were weakened by acid, and Bobbi Trout was forced down with sand, or maybe dirt, poured in her fuel."" - p 38
I really know next-to-nothing about Earhart or the history of women pilots so this bk was useful for my education.
"Her eyes flared at that. "Actually, there's a great deal of camaraderie. ... Have you heard of the Ninety Nines? That's an organization of women pilots, and I'm a past president."
""Presidents get assassinated, now and then."" - p 40
&, waddya know?!, the Ninety Nines are still going strong:
"OUR MISSION - The NINETY-NINES® INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION OF WOMEN PILOTS® promotes advancement of aviation through education, scholarships, and mutual support while honoring our unique history and sharing our passion for flight.
"Established in 1929 by 99 women pilots, the members of The Ninety-Nines, Inc.®, International Organization of Women Pilots®, are represented in all areas of aviation today. And, to quote Amelia, fly "for the fun of it!""
"My role as bodyguard entailed any number of activities I hadn't expected, including hauling in from the trunk of her Franklin a slide projector, a reel of 16-millimeter film, a carton of books, and of course a small tin cash box for me to make change out of, being the guy who'd be selling The Fun of It (it would be too undignified for the author to do so herself)." - p 45
Too undignified, eh?! I always sell my own merch (when I'm not giving it away).
"["]They were well off and I think it's rather hard on kids, seeing how the other half lives, and then going back to the other side of the tracks."
"I nodded. "I know what you mean. My uncle was wealthy, my pop was a diehard union man. On old Wobbly."
""Ha! Old boyfriend of mine took me to a Wobbly meeting once."
""It can be a good place to pick up girls."
""Ah, well, Sam already had a girl, didn't he? Though not for long. You father wasn't much for capitalism, huh?"
"I sipped my coffee. "That's the funny thing. He was a moderately successful small businessman. He ran a radical bookshop for years, in Douglas Park."" - pp 60-61
Ok, I just quoted that b/c of the Wobblies reference. Still, it makes me wonder what the author's politics are.
""We better get back on the road," I said, drawing my hand away, slipping out of the booth, digging a nickle from my topcoat pocket and tossing the tip on the table-top." - p 65
The nickle tip must be a bit jarring to 21st century readers. SO, let's say the time is roughly 1935. According to https://www.in2013dollars.com/us/inflation/1935?amount=0.05 that nickle wd be worth $1.08 today so he'd still be a cheap tipper.
"And she knew that my idealistic leftist father had killed himself in disappointment over his only son joining the corrupt Chicago police department; shot himself in the head with my gun, a gun I still carried with me, the closest thing to a conscience I had." - p 69
The detective uses typical self-serving logic for justifying becoming lovers w/ a married woman by building a case against her husband.
"["]everybody knows that your husband works against the other women pilots-"
""I didn't know."
""Just ask anybody. Ask Lady Heath, ask Elinor Smith, ask 'Chubby' Miller. ..."" - p 92
"On the afternoon trip to Mantz's place, Amy had done the driving, tooling the sleek Terraplanne past the farms, ranches and lush orange groves beyond the shaded streets of residential Burbank, where the foot soliders of the dream factory lived in modest cracker-boxes." - p 98
I'm finding this 'review' most unsatisfactory so far. The most important thing about this mystery is that it's about the disappearence of Amelia Earhart. If that subject interests you, as it does me, then the story will probably interest you. But, as is often the case w/ my reviews, I don't want to spoil the plot so I pick details to quote that interest me for other reasons that don't necessarily add up to that much as a picture of the entire story. Before, it was the Wobblies, then it's the name of a car that I associate w/ a Captain Beefheart song, next thing you know it'll probably be anti-Semitism. Sheesh.
""It's a country club."
""Might be a problem."
""Most country clubs are restricted."
""Oh ... I'm sorry ... I forgot..."
"I'm Jewish? That's okay. I forgot it myself, a long time ago. Trouble is, other people keep bringing it up." - p 98
Now the story's still in the mid 1930s. I wonder if there're still country clubs that wd deny Jews admittance in this day & age? It seems unlikely. Then again, it seems unlikely that there're any country clubs that wd have me as a member.
"Dinner was nice, though I was glad Amy was paying-it was a pricey seventy-five cents a steak, à la carte" - pp 98-99
There's that inflation again. When I retired, in 2018, I was making $20 an hr at my main, fairly highly skilled, job & the management offered me more to try to keep me. Now, in 2022, a friend of mine's 15 yr old daughter makes $25 an hr babysitting. The QUARANTYRANNY has made the worst inflation in my lifetime. 1935's 75¢ is 2022's $16.22 according to https://www.in2013dollars.com/us/inflation/1935?amount=0.75 . It seems to me that the author's sense of 1935 economic scale is a bit off since that 5¢ tip was a bit small & acting like 75¢ was alot seems off given that today's correlative isn't >that< egregious. Maybe the online inflation calculators just haven't really caught up to how bad inflation actually is in 2022. One young university student friend of mine didn't balk at accepting $1,400 a mnth as rent for what she described as a small apartment. The highest rent I've ever pd was $250 a mnth - & that was for a huge warehouse, 1st, & a whole house, 2nd. I bought a house in 2006 & the highest mortgage for that, wch included home-owner's insurance & taxes, was less than $250 a mnth. That was only 16 yrs ago. SO, in 16 yrs people are accepting expenses almost 6 times as much as the highest I'd tolerate. Of course, I was poor & I had some sense about how to navigate the usually greedy world of landlordism. My friend the student has been given more money to >just be a student< than I was ever pd to work a whole yr.
One of the many details that made this bk interesting to me was the primitiveness of the flying calculations. We've come a long way in the last 90 yrs.
"Amy spent many hours with Mantz and Commander Williams going over charts and maps (Rand McNally overviews of the United States and Mexico, and state maps of both countries); she would have to compute her position from compass readings and elapsed time using tables that showed distances covered at various speeds." - p 122
Finally, we get to the point where Earhart's plane has apparently gone down during her round-the-world flight.
"The radio operator on the Itasca sent messages by voice and key and listened in every frequency that Amy might use. Her final transmission, at 8:44, was shrill and frightened: "We are on the line of position 156-137. Will repeat message. We will repeat this message on 6210 kilocycles. Wait. Listening on 6210 kilocycles. We are running north and south."
"With no frame of reference, her "position 156-137" and "running north and south" were meaningless. Until 10:00 A.M., the radio operator continued trying to make contact.
"At 10:15A.M., the commander of the Itasca ordered full steam, beginning a desperate search at sea, soon to be joined by the minesweeper Swan, the battleship Colorado, the aircraft carrier Lexington, and four destroyers in a sweeping mass rescue effort the likes of which had never before been expended on a single missing aircraft.
"Amelia Earhart was back in the headlines." - p 161
I'm sure that the author did his best to stay true to the facts as he gathered them. Nonetheless, I find the statement "With no frame of reference, her "position 156-137" and "running north and south" were meaningless." bizarre. How cd an experienced aviatrix like Amelia Earhart not announce her location in an SOS in a way that wd be understandable to someone?! It seems more than a little likely that ""position 156-137" and "running north and south"" wd've meant something to her or she wdn't have expressed the coordinates in that way.
""That's where Howland Island comes in," Mantz said. "And to answer your question, Howland Island is a desolate dab of nothing in the middle of nowhere, half a mile wide and one mile and a half long, covered with seagull shit."
""Just what is Franklin Roosevelt's interest in a bird-shit repository?"
"He threw his hands in the air, rolled his eyes. "Hell, I don't know the politics, or the military ramifications, not really. But Howland and a couple other little islands are just about the only land between Hawaii and the Marshall Islands."
"The Marshall Islands belong to the Japanese. There's talk of the Japs and military expansion in the Pacific. This is all over my head, Heller, but even for somebody who doesn't read anything but the funny pages, it's not hard to figure: Uncle Sam musta needed an excuse to build a runway on Howland."
""And Amelia was it."" - p 172
So, there you have it: pre-WWII machinations.
""First off, there's the ping-pong balls."
""That Elektra had ping-pong balls stuffed in every nook and cranny-nowhere they'd get in the way, but where controls go out to wing flaps, in wing spars, and so on."
""The point being?"
""Added buoyancy, in case they were forced to ditch in the open sea.["]" - p 192
Very interesting.. as is the ongoing depiction of Heller, the detective.
"He chuckled. "I understand you once spoke to Director Hoover 'disrespectfully.' "
""I told him to go fuck himself."
"The dark unblinking eyes had fastened on me, appraisingly. "You also prevented him from being kidnapped by the Karpis and Barker gang. And I understand, from Elmer Irey, that you were helpful last year, in the ongoing IRS investigation of the late unlamented Huey Long's confederates in Lousiana."
""If this is a testimonial dinner," I said, "go ahead and roll out the cake with the stripper in it."" - p 256
"On July 19, the Navy abandoned its efforts and declared the search for the Elektra over. Though intercepted radio messages (never made public) indicated Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan had been picked up by the Japanese almost two weeks earlier, the Navy used the continuing search as an excuse for continued, expanded reconnaissance of this strategic area of the Pacific. They were not allowed into Japanese-controlled waters, however, though the Japanese professed to be helping in the search.
"Ten ships, sixty-five airplanes, and four thousand men had scoured two hundred and fifty thousand square miles of Pacific Ocean in a four-million dollar effort. Not a trace of the Elektra or its crew or even a life raft turned up. No oil slick, no scrap of floating debris. Nothing." - p 264
Interesting, eh?! Since I'm refraining from the tempting spoiler, I won't offer any further explanation but I think that, on their own, the above 2 paragraphs provide a very interesting object for comtemplation - esp "Though intercepted radio messages (never made public) indicated Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan had been picked up by the Japanese almost two weeks earlier, the Navy used the continuing search as an excuse for continued, expanded reconnaissance of this strategic area of the Pacific." I'll be alert for potentially parallel incidents in today's day & age.
But back to the details that this novel is so excellent in providing:
"The mural behind the Cine-Gril bar depicted early Holloywood days, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, way back when movies couldn't talk, a dozen years ago. The soothingly air-conditioned lounge was cozy but large enough for a bandstand and postage-stamp dance floor (Russ Columbo's radio show was broadcast out of here) and the lighting was subdued, but not so much that you couldn't be seen if you wanted to. The ultramodern material, Formica, covered the front of the bar in deep red, with horizontal stripes of chrome and indirect lighting from under the lip of the mahogany countertop. The blue leather and chrome stools were shaped like champagne glasses and I was perched on one of them, sipping a rum and Coke." - p 269
"Forrestal was still smoking his pipe; its pleasantly pungent aroma was creating a minor fog. He and the lanky Miller made a Mutt and Jeff pairing, albeit a somber one. These guys were a lot of laughs. Like a barrel of monks." - p 295
Instead of monkeys.. A barrel of monks might be imagined to be too sensually deprived to be much fun - then again, historically (or, perhaps, mainly fictionally?), many monks are depicted as ribald drunks.. & there IS plenty of booze that originates from monasteries..
At the end, Collins thanks various researchers who worked on the bk:
"My long-time collaborator, research associate George Hagenauer, located books and articles, and in particular lent support in figuring out how to get Nate Heller to Saipan (and under what cover story). My other chief researcher, Lynn Myers, came up with rare Saipan material as well as the elusive G. P. Putnam autobiography, Wide Margins (1942)." - p 424
All in all, a good read - perhaps even a valuable one for those interested in Earhart.
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