“Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry” was a 1974 film that capitalized on America's car chase fascination spawned by cinema hits like “Bullitt” and “The French Connection”. The movie became a cult hit, leading fans to learn more about the film's source material, a crime-fiction novel by Richard Unekis titled “The Chase”. The book was originally published in 1963 by Gollancz, then again in 1964 by Signet under the title “Pursuit”. Once the film was released, the novel experienced another identity crisis with a re-release under the name “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry” by publisher Panther. Oddly, it was Unekis' only literary work.
The first thing to realize is that “The Chase” novel is vastly different from its theatrical counterpart. In fact, Dirty Mary isn't even a character in the book. Instead, the film features two ex-convicts, Grozzo and Rayder, robbing a small midwestern grocery store and subsequently trying to outrun the dragnet. Unekis utilizes 1968's explosion of muscle cars (V8s in smaller frames), the rural dirt roads of America's farmland and more modern police techniques as opposed to one-dimensional road block snares. In a way, the book is a technical manual of procedures which eventually leads to its own mediocrity.
The actual heist was way more compelling than the subsequent 100 pages of car chases. The author's description of the grocery store's management and payroll practices was intriguing. In essence, it was the perfect target for an appealing $80,000 grab and go robbery. While the store manager is featured sporadically in the book's beginning, he becomes wasted fodder as the narrative moves from heist to fast getaway. On film, flinging gravel and the sounds of tires screeching and engines roaring probably made for an entertaining 90-minutes. But high RPMs don’t necessarily make for a riveting page-turner.
There are far better crime-fiction and heist novels than “The Chase”. In fact, a greatly improved version of this same story is Hillary Waugh's 1960 novel “Road Block” reviewed HERE. If you still feel the need to pursue this story, the film is probably a better use of your time than the paperback.
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