Sterling Noel (1903-1984) was an American author and journalist whose 1950s body of work includes two respected novels, “I Killed Stalin” (1951) and “We Who Survived” (1959). His mystery and crime fiction entries included “Empire of Evil” (1961), “Prelude to Murder” (1959), “Intrigue in Paris” (1955, aka “Storm Over Paris”) and “Run for your Life” (1958). His literary work has been largely preserved thanks to modern reprints from both Armchair Fiction and Wildside Press. My first exposure to Noel's writing is the 1955 novel, “I See Red,” which was originally published as an Ace Double along with Dale Clark's “Mambo to Murder.”
Pete LaSalle is a former American spy who has retired to Fort Myers, Florida to try his hand in the shrimping business. In the book's opening pages, he receives a strange guest who claims to know about LaSalle's secretive past. The visitor wants LaSalle to assist a U.S. counter-espionage agency in locating a missing atomic scientist. LaSalle, comfortable in his retirement, immediately declines but eventually gets lured back into the intrigue for intensely personal reasons.
The author draws upon a reliable genre trope when LaSalle is falsely-accused of a murder relating to the assignment, considerably increasing the stakes for the mission’s success. The action heats up as LaSalle eventually partners with his beautiful ex-wife as the setting shifts to New York City and eventually Mexico in search of the missing scientist. The bulk of the book is extremely violent and hard-boiled as hell. Upon arriving in New York, LaSalle employs some brutish techniques - not for the squeamish - to get people talking. This leads to an exciting finale with twenty pages of pure action that produces an astounding body count...for 1955.
“I See Red” is an awesome work of mid-century action-adventure fiction. Interestingly, Ed Lacy's 1959 novel “Blonde Bait” shares a very similar opening premise. I also found that Dan J. Marlowe's 1969 book, “Operation Fireball,” emulates a lot of the book's second-half story-line wherein the hero recruits hardmen to boat down the east coast and liberate the prize from a Latin American compound. These plot devices later emulated by respected authors left me respecting Sterling Noel's innovative and influential work immensely, and any reader looking for an exciting paperback will find that “I See Red” definitely delivers the goods.
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