British author Peter Cave (born 1940) was both a newspaper reporter and editor before transitioning into writing full-length novels. The majority of his literary work was in the 1970s and 1980s under his own name as well as the pseudonym Petra Christian. He contributed to three installments of the “New Avengers” television novelizations in the late 1970s. Fascinated by the “Easy Rider” culture, Cave wrote a hand-full of biker novels beginning with 1971's “Chopper”. Beginning in the mid-80s, Cave authored five books as tie-ins to one of the U.K.'s longest running television shows, “Taggart”. My first experience with Cave is a 1976 team-based commando novel titled “The Crime Commandoes”. It was printed by Everest, a British publisher run by author Ken Follett (“The Pillars of the Earth”).
In the book's author notes, “The Crime Commandoes” was actually a pilot novel for an expected series of team-based combat adventures. The paperback even has the obligatory team member names and skill-sets printed on the back cover. It had all of the ingredients for a series...except for successful sales numbers. It's my guess that the debut didn't receive enough consumer demand to warrant additional installments. Nevertheless, the book is surprisingly a lot of fun.
Paul Crane is a Detective Inspector working long nights in London. As the book opens, Crane arrives to a crime scene to find a slain young woman. Shortly afterwards, a constable arrives with the prime suspect. After Crane's questioning, the man admits to killing the woman after she asked him for money. In an explosive rage, Crane brutally beats the man. With plenty of witnesses, Crane is brought to his superiors where he's chastised for allowing his pending divorce, alcoholism and depression to bring about a downward spiral of police brutality. He's suspended from the force with orders to get his life cleaned up.
After a few days, Crane is summoned to a special council with a man named Grant. The idea is to form an “urban guerrilla” force featuring four of London's most controversial law enforcement officers. Crane's is given free reign to use whatever methods he chooses for targeting high-profile criminals and terrorist cells across England. He'll receive weapons, supplies, targets and support.
The catch is that Crane must be publicly arrested for taking bribes and placed on trial. With some agency resources, Crane will become owner of the notorious Blackball Club, one of London's seediest criminal dives. The trial will provide a light sentence and Crane will officially be terminated from service. It's an orchestrated bit of theater that places Crane into an undercover operative role while allowing him to mingle with other criminal cohorts at the Blackball. Does Crane accept? It wouldn't be much of a story if he didn't.
Joining Crane's Crime Commandoes:
Cornish – History of insubordination in the Army, former boxer. Bomb disposal skills.
Lake – Former police sergeant, terminated for brutal tactics. Explosives and fighting prowess.
Babsley – Police officer, terminated for attacking his superintendent. Fighting specialty.
Jelly – The fifth member is a bomb-sniffing dog that's rejected his handlers. His talents...he's a dog!
The team's first and only assignment is tracking down a terrorist cell calling themselves Apocalypse. After blowing up several buildings throughout London, the team begins researching patterns and studying the cryptic messages that are phoned to the newspapers. After eventually narrowing down the target area, the terrorists are forced to change their agenda from bombing to kidnapping. After Crane's team begins negotiating with the terrorists, a link is formed to a heavyweight drug dealer named Panosa. But is he the leader of the cell or just an ally? It's this question that leads into an explosive finale as the team fights Apocalypse on land, sea and air.
I read and reviewed a 1981 team-based commando novel called “Terror in Turin” by Robert McGarvey earlier this year. It was the debut of a six-book series called 'S-Com'. The story-line of that novel is very similar to what Peter Cave offers with “Crime Commandoes”. Peter Cave produces a winning formula whereas McGarvey failed to produce engaging characters, a propulsive narrative or a believable villain.
The Crime Commandoes formulate sound counter-terrorism strategies to fight a formidable foe in Apocalypse. It was extremely satisfying to find that this author doesn't restrain the good guys. In fact, he elevates the violence and body count as the heroes attempt to decimate the enemy. While I would have enjoyed more emphasis on properly introducing half of the team, I did enjoy Cave's focus on Crane and Cornish. Dog lovers will be frustrated that Jelly doesn't really make an impact on the storytelling.
Overall, “The Crime Commandoes” was an excellent, action-packed novel that should have produced more installments. Maybe Cave has another two or three unpublished series manuscripts that author and publisher Lee Goldberg will unearth 15-years from now. I'm hopeful there's more to these characters than just this sole adventure. One is a dreadful, lonely number.
Buy a copy of this book HERE