By Andy Mansell | Contributor Published: 01/07/2014 10:00 am EST
Publish date: November 19, 2013 Publisher: Titan Books, Hard Case Crime | Buy Book
This is an amateurish novel. And before we go any further—yes, I hope I have the chops to produce a novel as amateurish as these early Michael Crichton books (and he wrote these while he was in med school!). But I’m not being jealous and persnickety. Odds On is poorly written and badly realized.
Case in point: I’m sure that the young Mr. Crichton was something of a ladies’ man. He was quite good looking and in med school for God’s sake. But that doesn’t mean he was mature enough as a writer to create believable female characters. The sex scenes make the reader squirm, but not in the good way.
The plot: Three men join together to pull off an amazing heist of an isolated luxury hotel on the coast of Spain. Bryan is the smooth British operator, Miguel is the tough American who will be the muscle if needed, and finally Steve Jencks, the mastermind—an autodidactic mathematical genius who has made a fortune beating the house in gambling meccas throughout the world.
How does one rob a hotel? You have two venues—the money/valuables found in the rooms of the wealthy and the jewels, receipts, and payroll in the hotel vault. It seems extremely risky, but according to Jencks, every aspect is worked out to offer the best odds of success. Using FORTAN (this is 1966), he has run every conceivable computation from the weather to the activity of the local police and has set up this elaborate plan accordingly. All they have to do is spend three days at the hotel figuring out the best rooms to loot, then on the weekend they rob the most ideal rooms, create three diversions (I won’t spoil them), and empty the vault.
The entire center section of the book consists of the three men collecting room wealth intel by making small talk with as many guests as possible. In the right hands—say an Agatha Christie, who was incapable of developing a uninteresting character—this could have steered the novel into the stratosphere of classic heist novels. Instead, we meet a few guests and our three arch-criminals (but you’ve gotta love ‘em!) spend the rest of their time seducing a trio of world class women. Let’s hope Steve included the “Chicks will f*** you up” intangible into his statistical model.
Thanks to all these meet and greets, we are thrown more than a few red herrings, which Crichton works into the plot quite well and the novel starts to pick up some team until the night of heist, when the thieves discover that…oh hell, I can’t say it. I really want to spoil it so you won’t read it, but I can’t so I won’t. But it is the stupidest plot twist ever (and I’m including that Richard Gere movie Primal Fear in my statistical model).
All kidding aside, even with those dreadful sex scenes and the unbelievable way Crichton presents his globe-trotting women, the book is a fast-paced beach read. But then, when they find that…oh, never mind, it is laughable—in all probability (heh) you can come up with a better twist yourself. And then to add insult to improbability, we are given with a happy ending. Wow, what are the odds of that happening? R.I.P. Mr. Crichton. You’ve given the world thousands of pages of intriguing novels and TV scripts, but Odds On should remain off your resume.
BTW—Like all the other novels in the Hard Case Crime paperback library, the book is packaged with a gorgeous painted cover that depicts a hot torch singer holding a microphone in one hand and a gun in the other. It has nothing to do with the story, but who cares?
Andy Mansell lived in Chicago for over 40 years until his doctors advised him that he would die soon unless he got as far away from the land of Italian combo sandwiches and soft serve frozen custard. He is currently growing rather old rather quickly in Charlotte, NC as a member of the Waistline Protection Program. He lives for four things: his family, baseball, opera, and of course great comics. He is also looking for a ride back to Chi-town for just one more breaded steak sammich. He will provide gas, guaranteed. Contact him at this address.