Of the 20-or-so crime novels written by Robert Colby in the 1950s and 1960s, the overall consensus is that “The Captain Must Die” is his masterpiece. The book began as a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback original from 1959 and has been reprinted several times thereafter, so you should have no problem landing yourself a copy - particularly if you open your heart to reading vintage fiction on a Kindle.
Fawcett packaged the paperback as a WW2 novel, but that’s not the case at all. The story takes place in the 1950s - at least a dozen years after the main characters left the war behind. Three former platoon-mates meet in Louisville, Kentucky with a load of guns to deal with some unfinished business from the war. The title of the paperback betrays their plan to murder a former U.S. Army captain, but it’s way more involved than you’d think.
The former captain is named Gregory Driscoll, and he’s a successful local businessman in Louisville. Most of his wealth was inherited, but he’s made the most of his head start by living with servants and a trophy wife on a sizable estate. As we meet Driscoll, he is being harassed with 3am phone calls, vandalism to his car, and the shutting off of his utilities. He’s also got a secret in his basement that he keeps from his the world. The three ex-soldiers’ awareness of the basement’s secret - coupled with seething hate and a lust for revenge - drive the action forward towards a violent confrontation.
The author dishes out the revelations of “The Captain Must Die” in drips and drabs. Why do the guys want to kill Driscoll after all these years? What’s the captain hiding in his basement? How does his lusty wife fit into all this? Revealing too much would spoil many satisfying surprises, and the “The Captain Must Die” is a treasure trove of twists and turns worth experiencing without too much foreknowledge. It’s a vendetta story, a heist novel, and a tough-guy story of graphic violence rolled into 180 pages of 1959 paperback perfection.
If you’re looking for the type of war story depicted on the cover, look elsewhere. However, if you want a brilliantly-layered novel of crime and revenge, you can’t do much better than “The Captain Must Die.” Highly recommended essential reading.
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