Saturday, May 25, 2013

Dead at the Takeoff by Lester Dent

Chance Molloy pursues a crooked senator’s daughter aboard an airplane, but their flight is turbulent in more ways than one

In the 1940s, air travel is still in its infancy. Seats turn into private sleepers, passengers smoke in flight, and it’s no sweat to carry weapons aboard. Chance Molloy, a self-made airline owner, is dealt a blow when his plans to establish a passenger airline in South America are thwarted by a corrupt US senator. At the news, Molloy’s brother, a partner in the venture, kills himself. Seeking some kind of justice, Molloy boards Flight 14 from New York to New Mexico with one goal in mind: to get acquainted with the senator’s daughter, Janet Lord, a passenger on the plane. But her charms are greater than he anticipates, and Molloy’s simple plan quickly becomes complicated.

Also on board are three of the senator’s henchmen, a corpse disguised as a passenger, and Molloy’s stewardess ex-girlfriend. Soon Molloy realizes that this flight will reach a destination he hadn’t anticipated.

Originally, I was going to give Dead at the Takeoff 2.5 stars because the story was good, even though the writing seemed clichéd and full of adverbs.  But when I went to Amazon to get the length and price, I read the four-star review that was there, and the reviewer said, “Thank you Mysterious Press for rediscovering this lost classic.  I thought the book was plagiarized and reduced that number to zero roses.  The editor contacted me and told me the book is a reprint of a classic.  That changes my whole view of the book.

Let’s take this one issue at a time.

Dead at the Takeoff was rather clichéd and full of unnecessary adverbs.  “Jarringly, the telephone broke the labored stillness.”

That’s how most people wrote in the 1940s.  Even the line “It was a dark and stormy night” was new once upon a time.

Mr. Dent used a lot of passive voice, and head-hopped.  The industry standard is one point of view per scene.  He changed point of view in the middle of sentences.

This is a newer standard.  It had not been set when Dead at the Takeoff was written.

Then there was the use of pluperfect verbs.  Who speaks this way?  “We had done this?  And then we had done that?”

I wasn’t around back then.  Maybe people did use more pluperfect tense in everyday speech.

There were sentences that were just plain weird:  “He gave himself, for a few moments, to allaying his anxiety.”

Again, this may simply be a matter of the style of writing people used in the 1940s.

Finally, this book takes place in the forties between World War II and Korea.  It would be nice if Mr. Dent had somehow given the date at the beginning of the book.

You don’t need to put the date into a contemporary book.  Dead at the Takeoff happens in the year in which it was written.  Who knew it would be reprinted sixty years later and reviewed by a reader who did not recognize the author’s name and realize it was a reprint of a manuscript that was sixty years old?

If you can get past the differences in writing style between then and now, you will hopefully enjoy this book.  The story is engaging and fast-paced.  The characters could have been a bit deeper, but that was the nature of pulp detective novels in the forties.  I suspect I’d have had a lot more fun reading this book if I’d realized that’s what it was.

Length:  223 Pages

Price:  $7.99

Thanks for visiting.  RIW

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, older books are hard to read unless you know what they are and understand the period they were written in.