George Axelrod is the Academy Award-nominated screenwriter
of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.
While not especially prolific as an author, his novels were
certainly first-rate, as BLACKMAILER --- brought back into
print by Hard Case Crime after almost a half-century --- clearly
Half the fun of reading BLACKMAILER is discerning the
real-world models of Axelrod’s characters. Dick Sherman is
the head of a small but successful New York publishing house;
Charles Anstruther is a bestselling author, dead of an apparent
accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound; and Walter Heinemann is a
flamboyant party-thrower for the New York literati. All are almost
immediately recognizable, even after 50-plus years.
Things get rolling when Sherman is offered an unpublished work of
Anstruther’s by a woman who shows up at his office. Max
Shriber, a powerful but mysterious literary agent, makes Sherman a
similar offer on the same book. It is not long before
Sherman’s house (and Sherman himself) are ransacked,
individuals start turning up dead, and Anstruther’s novel,
which may or may not exist, is being hunted by more and more
Sherman is also brought back into contact with Janis Whitney, an
old flame of his who is now a famous film star. Coincidentally (or
not), she is engaged to Shriber and involved in a mysterious way
with the book as well. He wants the novel, but so do others.
Axelrod’s tale is a somewhat complex one, and he almost loses
its thread a time or two, but overall his fine narrative will keep
you reading right to the end. And anyone involved in the
present-day publishing industry will be amazed at how much, and how
little, has changed since the 1950s.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010