Friday, June 21, 2019

The Man All America Hated

At the dawn of paperback original novels in the early 1950s, Gordon Landsborough (1913-1985) was top of the heap in Great Britain. He was a prolific writer and publisher who capitalized on the hot new storytelling medium using a variety of pseudonyms and genres - like a British Norman Daniels or Lou Cameron. New Ebook Library has just released a “lost” 1952 contemporary adventure novel originally published under Landsborough’s “Mike M’Cracken” pseudonym usually reserved for his Western novels.

I couldn’t find any listing of “The Man All America Hated” in any bibliography of Landsborough’s body of work, so I reached out to the British literary agent of his estate, Philip Harbottle, who pointed me to the February 2019 issue of “Paperback Parade” where Harbottle details the story of this historical literary oddity. Harbottle, an avid book collector himself, recently found a copy of the 1952 paperback by his client and was previously unaware it existed. A records search in the British equivalent of the copyright office produced no indication that the book was ever registered - a common oversight in postwar England during the rebuilding years. The paperback also likely suffered from a small print run leaving few surviving copies for modern readers and collectors to enjoy. Harbottle went to work finding the right imprint to republish the fast-moving story and found the New Ebook Library, who has been doing a great job bringing old and new pulp fiction to market at the 99 cent price point.

The premise of the novel is pretty damn cool. Alec McCrae is “The Man All America Hated” and with good reason. In World War 2, he acted as an intelligence officer for the Japanese and tortured American prisoners of war. McCrae disappeared after Japan’s surrender and has become a folk hero fugitive in the same manner that Osama Bin Ladin became half a century later. As such, the international passengers on a plane crossing the Pacific to Australia are surprised to find that McCrae is a fellow passenger flying under an assumed name along with three companions.

Once discovered, McCrae hijacks the plane and forces a crash landing on a desolate island in the Pacific between Hawaii and Australia. It seems that McCrae’s plan is to murder the survivors and escape from the island while he is presumed dead to the world. The survivors aren’t excited by this plan and mount a defense against the traitorous American villain. A leader quickly emerges among the survivors, and a battle plan is formed.

“The Man All America Hated” is a wilderness survival tale and a man-hunting-man story. At about 111 modern pages, there’s not a lot of character development, but the suspense and action are front and center the whole time. There are things that could have made the book way better. For example, McCrae’s traitorous time in WW2 is glossed over in a single paragraph or two to establish the character as a villain. More backstory would have been interesting.

Despite these quibbles, stories of adversaries trapped together on a deserted jungle island trying to kill each other with rudimentary weapons are tales as old as time, but this one really worked for me. It’s certainly not a masterpiece of the genre, but it’s a lot of violent fun to read, and I’m thrilled that it’s now widely available for less than a buck. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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