Ohio-born Daniel Da Cruz (1921-1991) served as a U.S. Marine rifleman from 1938 to 1942 before pursuing a career in journalism with an expertise in Middle-Eastern affairs. His body of work as an author includes a three-book Men’s Adventure series starring an international gunslinger-for-hire named Ape Swain. The series conclusion from 1976, The Captive City, won the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original Novel. Life is short, so that’s where I’m starting the series.
First, let’s address the protagonist’s name. It’s A.P. Swain, but you can call him Ape. Everyone does. In all fairness, Ape is big, strong, and hairy - so it works on multiple levels. As the novel opens in mid-action, Ape is wearing a business suit and parachute when he bails out of a Cessna into the night sky over the Arabian desert. According to plan, Ape lands in the fictitious, reclusive and oil-rich Kingdom of Al-Akhiri. Before his death by dehydration, rescuers find our hero and deliver him directly to a fetid jail cell to await his execution by firing squad the next morning.
A flashback informs the reader that Ape has been pressed into service by a U.S. oil worker’s union to rescue over 3,700 Americans who have been held in the Kingdom for 17 years inside a city enclosed by an electric fence. The U.S. government has given up on the idea of mounting a rescue mission and seems to be actively covering-up news of this alleged concentration camp. Are the Americans inside the camp happy employees of the Arab nation’s oil operation or hostages being kept from their relatives and countrymen? This premise is beautifully-executed by the author who sets up a vexing conundrum for our hero to solve in this fast-moving adventure.
As it becomes clear what’s happening inside The Captive City, the reader must suspend his disbelief that thousands of Americans would simply be forsaken by the U.S. government. Of course, this opens the door for a hero like Ape Swain to enact a dangerous and audacious plan to discover the truth. By the time Ape makes it inside The Captive City, the suspense level is high. It reminded me of “The Others” village on the ABC TV show Lost. I won’t spoil it, but nothing is as it seems inside the fenced city. Meanwhile, the author doles out the answers judiciously with several red herrings and a fantastic payoff.
The novel’s terrific ending sets up a great new turn for the series, but it never happened. For reasons lost to history (but it’s always money), there was no Book 4 in the Ape Swain series. As such, The Captive City will go down in history largely unremembered. But those who find and read a yellowing paperback copy will recognize it as a work of genre fiction that outperformed both its predecessors and the reader’s expectations. Recommended.
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