1970's “Flashpoint” is the fourth novel in Dan J. Marlowe's 'Earl Drake' series. It's in the series minority as only one of three books in the 11-book run not to adopt the title of “Operation” something or another (although the reprinted Prologue version adds "Operation"). The book's predecessor was “Operation Fireball” and it's successor is “Operation Breakpoint”. While most Marlowe fans will look to the early series as the author's best work (“The Name of the Game is Death”, “One Endless Hour”), the heist-gone-spy formula is still enjoyable knowing it's a decline in quality compared to those genre classics. I'm probably in it for the long run just because I enjoy the Drake character so much and coupled with Marlowe's gift of storytelling...well there aren't many negatives to the series thus far.
In “Flashpoint”, Drake boards a plane in New York headed to Las Vegas. His girlfriend, series mainstay Hazel, has asked that he transport $75K and deliver it in person to an unknown individual. None of this is important, because the plane is hijacked in flight by Turks. They kill the jews, stewardess and pilot, take all the cash and valuables from the passengers (including the 75K) and force the plane down in a stretch of rural desert. Drake, pulling his .38 (it was a flight of hardmen that I couldn't quite figure out), shoots one of the hijackers but the rest escape. Drake heads back to Hazel's ranch and explains how he lost the cash.
Soon, Drake's old pal Karl Erikson shows up at the ranch. In the prior book, Erikson was an undercover operative that swayed Drake into assisting him in stealing money from Cuba. Drake didn't realize until the end that it was a government job and that Erikson was on the up and up. To show his appreciation, Erikson agreed to sort of wipe the slate clean on Drake's criminal record and keep law enforcement off of his back trail. In a threatening way, Erikson asks that Drake join him on a hunt for the hijacker given he's the only passenger on board that really got a good look at the gunmen.
From here, the show takes off to New York City where Erikson puts Drake on the trail of the hijacking coordinator, a Middle-Easterner who is running drugs in the city for profits that go back home to train terrorists to fight Israel. 1970. Nothing ever changes. Drake scouts a bar for a number of days and eventually finds the money runner, a horse-hooked beauty that Drake boinks on three occasions. With her help, Drake infiltrates the network and does what he does best – the old bank heist routine.
Marlowe gives us a great deal to snack on with “Flashpoint”. He knows his audience and he puts Drake into the heist bit to please the readers. As an added bonus, there's the safe cracking adventure and a unique scene where an envelope's contents must be captured without breaking the glued seal. Fascinating. The author also gives us a pitiful, doped up flower child that Drake attempts to rehabilitate. The negative is the slow build in the bar scenes, the lengthy stake-out that even has Drake wondering if he should just walk away out of boredom. There's also really odd scenes where Drake is peeping on a nude-shoot that takes place next to Erikson's office. Later, he comes back with a camera and films a covert porn scene from a janitor closet. These scenes don't necessarily add anything to the narrative and seem like filler to get the book to the required 180-page objective.
“Flashpoint” is a fine 'Earl Drake' entry, slightly better than “Operation Fireball” with an ode to what makes this series and character great – bank heists, safe cracking, moving money and violence. I hope to see more Hazel next time though.
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