Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Odds On

Before he was the famous author of bestsellers including “The Andromeda Strain” and “Jurassic Park,” Michael Crichton was a medical student writing books on the side under the name of John Lange. Before his 2008 death, he granted Hard Case Crime reprint rights to these early works, including his first published novel, “Odds On” from 1966.

“Odds On” is a heist novel in which three seasoned criminals conspire to rob the guests of a luxury resort hotel in Spain with the help of a machine called a “computer” that will take the guesswork out of the planning. These days, there’d be an app for that, but computers in 1966 were the size of a battleship and had the computing power of your toaster.

Here’s the heist crew:

- Bryan is the British thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie with the ability to drive women into an orgasmic frenzy with just one look.

- Miguel is a former U.S. Army soldier turned underground arms dealer. If you need some dynamite and blasting caps for a job in Spain, he’s your man.

- Jencks is the Massachusetts computer nerd who knows just which data input cards to drop into the giant IBM producing all the heist variables onto the magnetic tape and the green and white striped output paper.

As a 1960s period piece, this book is a total blast. Beyond the antiquated information technology, the novel is thoroughly politically incorrect - particularly in its treatment of women - and the main characters are vividly drawn archetypes of masculinity’s various flavors. Crichton’s pacing is perfect, and no one who reads “Odd On” should be surprised that the he later became one of the bestselling authors in the history of the written word. He had real chops even when he was a student.

The heist itself is well-planned and a large cast of supporting characters - mostly hotel guests - fill in pieces of the novel’s puzzle. There are lots of compelling little subplots happening with the other guests at the hotel that eventually tie into the larger narrative of the upcoming score.

Unlike the jobs of Richard Stark’s 'Parker' books, the computer-derived plan in “Odds On” is intricate and complex - exactly as you’d expect a fictional 1966 computer output to be. This makes for fun reading as the three thieves need to exhibit their flawless execution like a synchronized swimming routine. However, nothing ever goes as planned in a heist novel.

Another fun aspect of the paperback is the conceit that the heist crew must decide which guest rooms are worth robbing and which are better ignored. This appraisal of vacationing victims’ liquid assets is mostly done by having as much sex with fellow guests and hotel staff as humanly possible between arrival and go-time. This paperback has so many sex scenes that it makes a 'Longarm' story look like a 'Hardy Boys' hardcover. I’m not complaining, but the lusty descriptions also serve to pad “Odds On” from a novella length to a full novel. Crichton was a good writer, and he certainly knew his way around a hot scene, but you should know what you’re getting into if you’re the type of reader who tends to blush.

Other than the action between the sheets, there aren’t a lot of thrills in “Odds On” until the execution of the heist at the very end. The planning and casing of the hotel was compelling with a lot of relationship drama happening at the same time, so you’ll have to temper your expectations if you’re looking for a fast-paced adventure. Despite this, “Odds On” worked for me largely because Crichton’s plotting was very impressive, and the conclusion had a twist that I never saw coming. I intend to delve deeper into Hard Case Crime’s reprints of the John Lange body of work. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of "Odds On" HERE:

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