In a relatively short time, Hard Case Crime has become well known for periodically exhuming classic works of crime fiction and giving them the distribution and packaging they deserve. This month's exhibit is GRAVE DESCEND by John Lange. The cover, I would submit, speaks for itself, standing out on the shelf like a rose among a garden of weeds. The contents within are up to the billing.
GRAVE DESCEND was nominated for an Edgar Award, which no doubt surprised and delighted John Lange, who was busy at the time doing other things besides writing. "John Lange" is in fact a pseudonym for a gentleman who later became a phenomenally successful author with crossover success in film and television. I'm not stating his name simply because I don't want it to detract from this book, which is a work of such quality that it deserves to be judged on its own merits.
It begins with a mystery of sorts. James McGregor is a deep sea diver who ekes out an existence in Jamaica running an undersea salvage company. McGregor's best days are behind him; even so, he somewhat reluctantly agrees to the proposition of Arthur Wayne, a mysterious stranger who is a mass of contradictions. Wayne holds himself out as an insurance company representative who wants McGregor to undertake a recovery operation on Grave Descend, a luxury yacht that, McGregor is told, has just sunk off the coast of Jamaica.
McGregor reluctantly agrees, even as he learns that practically nothing Wayne has told him is true. As McGregor becomes more deeply involved in the project, he finds that he is not only being misled but is also being set up.
Lange devises quite an interesting scenario here. McGregor is neither rich nor a rocket scientist; the people who are using him are wealthy and intelligent, with an apparent infinite supply of resources. McGregor has friends, a journeyman's working knowledge of his field and the ability to think on his feet. It makes for an interesting battle of wits, and more.
Ultimately, Lange's narrative strength makes GRAVE DESCEND the readable, accessible work that it is. The author mixes background subject matter --- Jamaica, deep sea diving, World War II --- with interesting characters and an exotic plot to create an ultimately timeless novel.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011