Author John Gearon (1911-1993) began his career play-writing for theater in the 1930s. His first novel, 1935's The Velvet Well, was a hit. While not that much is known about Gearon, my research suggests that he authored eight total novels under the pseudonym John Flagg. Most, if not all, are espionage stories. Of the eight, five make up the Hart Muldoon series. Being unfamiliar with the series, I jumped in with installment number four, Death's Lovely Mask, published in 1958 by Fawcett Gold Medal.
Hart Muldoon was a former operative in the O.S.S., the early version of what is now known as the C.I.A. After leaving the business, Muldoon is then hired as an international private-eye or spy by the U.S. government investigating murders, kidnapping, heists and the early blueprints for criminal activity that may plague America or it's allies. It's the last part that brings Muldoon to Venice in Death's Lovely Mask.
A senate committee member named Hirem, who Muldoon served with in the O.S.S., threatens Muldoon into an assignment he doesn't want to accept. The job is to tail a young Prince named Sir-el-Donrd from the small, fictional country of Donrd-Arabia. His father has become gravely ill and it looks like the young Prince will be taking the throne soon. The country exists as a feudal state and if Sir-el-Donrd takes over, the applecart is turned over and the Arab chieftains will begin grumbling over oil interests. The U.S. involvement is through the German-American Oil Company within the country, jointly controlled by American and German management. To make matters worse, Sir-el-Donrd is defying generations of feuding by dating the daughter of an Israeli leader. It's essentially Romeo and Juliet with global implications between the rival households.
The author fails to convey to readers what Muldoon's actual job entails. From what we gather, it's frolicking around Venice having an affair with an oil-executive's wife while also banging a 15-year old girl on the side. The bulk of the narrative plays rather operatic with the hero guesting with the super rich Winthrop family. It was like an episode of Downton Abbey with Queens and Countesses and upright pinkies. The murder mystery superimposes itself during an elaborate costume party. However, by this point I just didn't care anymore. The last 20-pages were agonizing.
Perhaps the fourth book isn't a fair representation of the Hart Muldoon espionage series. From what I can gather, Gearon's other novels written under the Flagg name are of the same pedigree – castles, watery canals, wining and dining in plush locales throughout Europe. In essence, Death's Lovely Mask revealed enough to show its true self: an extremely dull book.
Hart Muldoon Series:
1. Woman of Cairo (1953)
2. Dear Deadly Beloved (1954)
3. Murder in Monaco (1957)
4. Death's Lovely Mask (1958)
5. The Paradise Gun (1961)
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