Block, Lawrence. The Canceled Czech.

NY: Fawcett, 1966.

This is the second in an eight-book series that Block cooked up a decade before he invented Matt Scudder. I can’t say they have the depth of character and richness of underlying philosophy of his later work, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth reading.

Evan Tanner is an oddball by anyone’s definition. As a result of a minor head wound in the Korean War, he doesn’t sleep. Ever. When he gets tired, he rests and uses a series of yoga routines to relax his muscles group by group. But he never sleeps. He gets a disability check, and he writes term papers and theses for Columbia students, and he always seems to have other ways of picking up money here and there, so he doesn’t have to hold down a regular job, either. Because he’s conscious one-third more of each day than anyone else, he reads omnivorously, remembers most of it, and speaks a couple of dozen languages. He’s also a member in good standing of a great many ethnic and political organizations around the world, most of which seem to be nationalist, royalist, secessionist, socialist, anarchist, or some combination. Tanner supports the Republic of Ireland taking over the Six Counties and also Macedonian independence. His interests and loyalties are broad. And now he has begun taking on odd assignments for a U.S. government agency so secret the FBI doesn’t know about it and the CIA can’t prove it exists.

This mission this time is to rescue Janos Kotacek, a Slovakian fascist, an escapee from the Third Reich now laboring on behalf of a possible Fourth Reich. Kotacek was living in Lisbon but has been kidnapped by the Czechs and smuggled back to Prague for trial as a war criminal. But the U.S. wants his records, and without anyone knowing about it. Tanner thinks the Czechs are perfectly entitled to hang the son of a bitch — an opinion in which he is overwhelming confirmed as the story progresses — but he takes on the job anyway. And, of course, everything goes wrong from the get-go. But Tanner has a knack for accomplishing the impossible, often in MacGiver spit-and-string fashion. Block himself has a knack for dry humor, often of the gallows variety, and while the narrative tends to drag a little in the first half of the book, the pace picks up nicely in the second half. These adventure yarns aren’t award-winners by any means, but they’re a lot of fun — especially if you’re old enough to remember the 1960s.

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Published in: on 19 November 2012 at 10:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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