The Morocco Jones books by pseudonym Jack Baynes are a four-installment series debuting in 1957 written by a newspaperman and non-fiction writer named Bertram B. Fowler (1893-1981). The actual title of the debut remains a source of great debate. I’m guessing the full title is Meet Morocco Jones in the Case of the Syndicate Hoods but the spine of the original paperback simply reads Meet Morocco Jones. A recent eBook reprint re-titles the novel, Morocco Jones and the Syndicate Hoods. Same difference, I suppose.
The book opens with our hero, Morocco Jones, opening a private investigative agency in Chicago along with two colleagues from their spy days together. As Morocco explains to an old flame, “We have wealthy clients who pay well for the return of missing jewels, of embezzled funds; for straightening out a crooked caper. It's duck soup after the old days, honey."
Unfortunately, it’s not going to be that easy for Morocco this time. A commie spy named Bardo has a score to settle from the group’s European Cold War days and resurfaces in Chicago with a goal of killing Morocco and his partners. Even more vexing, Bardo is coopting hoodlums from the Chicago syndicate to be his local muscle. It’s a war against both the commies and the mafia in one, easy-reading volume.
Another wrinkle is that the three ex-spy partners had a fourth member of the team back in Europe named Chris who went missing years ago. It seems that Chris went through extensive plastic surgery to change his appearance and is now also lurking in Chicago. This tired gambit has been done before in adventure fiction and feels a little lazy to me. Chris’ resurfacing as someone else is clearly somehow related to Bardo’s resurfacing, but how?
Morocco is not the boss of his own P.I. agency. He answers to the General who ran the spy agency before they all retired two years earlier. The General is a hard-nosed boss who says things like, "And, so help me, Morocco, I'll eat you for breakfast if you slip." Based on the exigency of this current mission, the three have been reinstated as U.S. government operatives until Bardo is permanently exterminated.
This first literary adventure in the series is basically a hunt-and-kill mission for Morocco, but he has to run down clues like a normal private eye to find Bardo and his syndicate protectors. He leaves a sizable body count in his wake in a bloodbath of carnage more extreme than most 1957 paperbacks. The action scenes were top-notch but there are far too many characters and untidy plot threads in this otherwise short paperback. It’s easy to get lost at times, which should never happen in a short paperback.
Fowler’s writing is serviceable without ever being flashy. He would have fit in perfectly among the Pinnacle Books serial vigilante authors of the 1970s. Overall, this opening Morocco Jones adventure is definitely worth your time, but it is unlikely to be the best book you read this year.
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