Before he was a mainstay on the bestseller list, Great Britain’s Ken Follett began his career as a novelist with a trilogy of books released in 1974 and 1975 starring a wealthy businessman-sleuth named Apples Carstairs. The slim paperback originals were published under the pseudonym Simon Myles and were reprinted under Follett’s own name when he became a big-money brand name. The first book in the series was titled The Big Needle, later released in the U.S. as The Big Apple before reverting to the original title for subsequent reprints.
The story opens in London with Apple in bed with his two girlfriends - one white, one black (ahhh, 1974) - when he is awakened by a visit from an unexpected guest, his ex-wife. She tells Apple that their 17 year-old daughter is in the hospital following a heroin overdose. Rather than sitting vigil by his daughter’s bedside, our hero takes to the streets with a vow to find and kill the pusher who supplied his kid with the smack.
Apples beats the tar out of a junkie and learns that the dealer is a spade (again, 1974) named Harry Hat who, you guessed it, wears flamboyant pimp hats. Harry Hat proves to be a more elusive and dangerous foe than Apples anticipated as the dealer leaves a trail of beatings, kidnappings and rapes behind.
I was hoping Follett had something clever in store for the manhunt, but instead Apples goes to great lengths to become a heroin supplier to infiltrate the London supply chain from above. From this vantage point, he learns that the heroin gang stretches deeper into the fabric of London’s elite - far beyond his original target of Harry Hat. This investigation was interspersed with graphic sex scenes every few chapters leading up to the inevitable confrontation between Apples and his shadowy enemy.
Follett said he wrote these books in his 20s to raise some car repair money, and that mostly shows. He became a way better writer coinciding with his fame and success as a bestseller. I think the best thing that could be said about Apples Carstairs #1 is that it was a quick read at 175 big-font pages. I suppose it wasn’t a miserable way to kill a couple hours, but in a world with infinite choices, why bother with mediocrity?
The Apples Carstairs series order is as follows:
1. The Big Needle (aka: the Big Apple), 1974
2. The Big Black, 1974
3. The Big Hit, 1975
Be warned: Books two and three are almost impossible to find. Based on book one’s middling quality, I wouldn’t bother seeking out the other two. Life, after all, is short.
Buy a copy of The Big Needle HERE