Saturday, April 4, 2020

The Stench of Poppies

Roger Erskine Longrigg (1929-2000) authored novels for a number of different genres including historical, romance, mystery and espionage. Writing under the pseudonym of Rosalind Erskine, the British author found literary success with the erotic novel The Passion Flower Hotel. Under the name Frank Parrish, Longrigg wrote an eight-book series starring a poacher and thief named Dan Mallett. As Laura Black, Longrigg authored a number of Scottish historical novels. In reviewing Longrigg's robust literary catalog, the novels that interest me the most are the spy-fiction books written under the pseudonym Ivor Drummond.

Drummond's nine novels star three wealthy individuals who simply fight crime together. While the team's creation isn't fully explained, nor is an official series name given, these books are of the spy or espionage variety. The trio is led by Jenny Norrington, a beautiful British woman and wealthy heiress. Her co-members are a rich Texan named Colleride “Colly” Tucker and a brute named Count Allessandro di Ganzarello. Thankfully, this wealthy Italian answers to the name of Sandro. The series was launched in 1969 with The Man with the Tiny Head. The first five novels were published by Pyramid with the rest of the series published by Dell. My first sampling of Longrigg and this series is the eight installment, 1978's The Stench of Poppies.

The book begins within a laboratory as a Turkish scientist has mistakenly discovered a method of making a deadlier strain of heroin.  By attempting to maximize the growth of poppy seeds (the main ingredient in morphine and heroin) using less land resources, the scientist modifies the seeds. In doing so, he makes a “super” version that makes the morphine or heroin user a raving, suicidal maniac within minutes of its use. The laboratory, in conjunction with government representatives, launch a new project of growing these deadly poppy seeds and selling them to governments that want to cleanse their streets and neighborhoods of heroin junkies. By providing this deadly drug, they feel that their drug epidemic will correct itself through mass suicides among users and addicts.

Jenny, Colly and Sandro meet with a high-level bank administrator who wants the trio to investigate a Turkish carpet retailer, Mustafa Algan, who is making large deposits in various currencies. The author shares with readers the fact that Algan has inherited the distribution duties for these new, modified forms of heroin and morphine. It is up to the trio to learn who Algan is and how his carpets are netting extraordinary profits. At 224-pages, I was hoping this procedural investigation would lead to gunplay, high-adventure or some sexy undercover romps. Unfortunately, The Stench of Poppies never really gained much traction.

The author utilizes dozens of cities for his three protagonists to explore. As the trio tour the countryside, Longrigg uses lengthy portions of the book to explain mythology or famous medieval battles that occurred at each location (borrowing too much from his historical fiction written as Laura Black). The dialogue between the three main characters was entertaining and often humorous. There is an outrageous scene in the opening pages as the trio decide if they want to kill a man trapped in the back of their truck. Another fun scene has Jenny faking an epileptic seizure before luring a victim to his death. But aside from these scenes, the author just spins his wheels on dull, uninspiring travel sequences that find the heroes searching for red poppy fields all over the Middle East. Near the book's end, I was hoping someone was able to find a plant so the story would end...and I could stop counting pages.

A Stench of Poppies would have been better received at 150-pages, less travel and more action. I've read great reviews of this series and I'm not dismissing the entire lot based on this one novel. At some point I'd like to explore the first few installments in hopes of higher quality.

Buy your copy of A Stench of Poppies HERE.

1 comment:

  1. Longrigg could write good novels when he chose to but - like many writers - had to overproduce for financial reasons. The Daughters of Mulberry is a little tragicomic masterpiece.