Milo March was a fictional spy turned insurance investigator created by Kendell Foster Crossen using the pseudonym M.E. Chaber. The series ran for 22 novels and a handful of short stories from 1952 to 1973, and is currently being reprinted by Steeger Books with fetching cover art. Based on a tip from Crossen’s daughter, author and literary estate curator Kendra Crossen Burroughs, I decided begin my march into the series with the second installment, No Grave for March from 1953.
March is an investigator for Denver-based Intercontinental Insurance, but he used to be a OSS operative during World War 2. Some of his books are straight-up property crime investigations and in other books, the U.S. government presses March back into service for an espionage assignment. This series setup provided the author great flexibility to plug his hero into any kind of pulpy genre book he felt like writing. No Grave for March is an international spy adventure paperback.
As the novel opens, March has been away from the spy business for seven years. He is summoned to a clandestine meeting in Washington, D.C. with an old colleague from his war days. It seems a diplomat with a head full of secrets has defected to the Soviet client state of East Germany. Because March speaks German, he is the choice to slip behind the iron curtain, kidnap the diplomat, and bring him back to the West. One of the secrets at stake is a mind-control device that can reprogram the public to either love Stalin or apple pie depending on who’s pulling the trigger.
I had always written off the Milo March books as being lightweight, inconsequential paperbacks along the same lines of Richard Prather’s Shell Scott or the many heroes of Carter Brown. Instead, the author put some actual thought into his work with summaries of communist theory embedded into the plot-line and interesting historical tidbits. This isn’t a work of genius, but it’s also not completely disposable fiction.
It’s also not a fast-moving shoot-em-up paperback. March spends a good bit of the novel just trying to convince the commies that he’s one of them and not an American spy. I found this fascinating, but it’s certainly not a breakneck Killmaster thrill ride. Crossen also has an annoying habit of writing lots of dialogue in German and Russian with no translation. You get the gist, but why bother showing off like that? There’s also a lot of specifics about East German tactics, ambitions, and party machinations that you will find either interesting or not.
Things become very exciting in the novel’s final act with a pulpy action sequence among the best I’ve read. I wish the rest of the paperback had set pieces as thrilling as the conclusion. Despite some missteps along the way, I genuinely enjoyed No Grave for March, and I look forward to exploring more of the series in the future.
No Grave for March has been reprinted several times. In the Paperback Library 1970 edition pictured above, the publisher numbered the installment #13. Don’t be fooled: it was truly book #2 in the series. An earlier printing of the novel was titled All the Way Down. Unless you’re a hardcore collector, don’t buy the same book trice.
Also, the Steeger House reprint contains an interview with Kendell Foster Crossen from 1975 that was informative for both his fans and pulp fiction historians.
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Hey Tom (?) thanks for reviewing NO GRAVE FOR MARCH. You've got the author nailed, for the most part, but the series still holds some surprises. The spy novels are my favorites among the series, which is escapist reading with yes a touch of intelligence and an effort to seriously convey a decent point of view, including on race relations (though black characters appear in only a few of the books). You may not know that I have written afterwords or forewords to most of the books. As a professional book editor for some 53 years, I lightly edited them (and explained if I did anything more than basic copyediting) and in a burst of nerdity added footnotes. Although I have a degree in Modern Languages (including German and French), I tried to minimize the translation of foreign dialogue, which I agree was a tad overdone, especially in Russian and German. If you didn't understand what was said, you weren't following the story, because you could have supplied the heavily accented English by pretending to be a screenwriter (i.e., it's fairly obvious). To be honest, I think much of it was done with a phrase book (esp. for Spanish and Portuguese), maybe the help of friends. One "secret" I have not admitted about the spy novels is that they almost always involve retrieving a person, usually a diplomat, from behind the Iron Curtain (or in the case of #23, the one novel never before published, from Vietnam). That constituted the excuse for writing things that interested Ken as well as having a few drinks, maybe more than a few, with the character he identified most with. I do think his books are very well plotted, and the character of Milo is enjoyable for the most part, unless maybe you read the series one by one, in order, a few times, as I did, and catch the author using some of the same old tricks. One reviewer commented that you enjoy the books while you're reading them, then forget them, so you could easily read them again (but later on)--if, say, you were locked down somewhere. Another Cold War novel of the series I like is the vodka-sodden SO DEAD THE ROSE, #9, with its insane wild chase scene. And let us not neglect #5, THE SPLINTERED MAN, in which LSD is forced upon Milo. I write about a number of points of interest in the afterword. WILD MIDNIGHT FALLS, #17, is yet another Cold War story, with a few twists that are different from the other books--and one surprise that I discovered about the villain character and reveal in the afterword. Among other titles already out, #2, THE MAN INSIDE, is a jewel heist/psychological suspense story that's pretty good, and it's the only one that was made into a film (UK, 1958), starring Jack Palance and Anita Ekberg (!). Quite a few of the stories are based on actual cases (notably #6, A LONELY WALK), which I identified as thoroughly as I could; I wonder if anyone will point out that I missed something, because in a few cases I myself noticed things corresponding to what we laughingly call reality (as Milo would say) that no reviewers had commented on and often I realized them by accident.ReplyDelete
This sounds awesome, Kendra. I can read the excitement and passion you have for this project and it's almost infectious. I look forward to the series.Delete