Friday, October 16, 2009

James Jones, mystery author.

There are fascinating pieces lurking in Clues back issues, such as one from issue 16.2 (1995) by University of Vermont English professor emeritus Allen Shepherd, "'Too Old for This Business': James Jones's A Touch of Danger." Jones (1921–77)—best known for From Here to Eternity (1951) and Some Came Running (1957)—also wrote a mystery novel, A Touch of Danger (1973), featuring private investigator Lobo Davies.

As Shepherd explains, Danger began life as the screenplay Hippy Murders for director John Frankenheimer. When it was clear that the project would not come to fruition, Jones decided to rework it as a mystery novel, patterning his detective after Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe (perhaps "Lobo" is a clue here, with its wolfish connotations and the PI's usual role as a "lone wolf"). On vacation in Greece, the middle-aged Davies encounters various anti-establishment youth involved in drugs and the sexual revolution, deals with dissipated expatriates, and investigates two murders.

In an April 23, 1972, letter to Dell president Helen Meyer, Jones stated, "It is perfectly possible to write a book of high literary merit within the 'mystery form'" (qtd. in Shepherd 131. Dell, apparently, did not agree; it rejected the book, which was eventually sold to Doubleday). Shepherd notes, "As mystery fiction, Jones's novel does in fact have much to recommend it, for it is well conceived, with good structure and pacing..." (132). Robert F. Jones in the May 6, 1973, Washington Post Book World called it "a fast, colorful, flawed but fascinating private-eye thriller" (4). Anatole Broyard in the May 21, 1973, New York Times was more dismissive: "Reading 'A Touch of Danger' is like looking at an antiquated but solid old flick on late TV with a drink in your hand and a luxurious yawn gathering somewhere in your chest" (31).

About the photo: Author James Jones (right) with From Here to Eternity actor Montgomery Clift. Billy Rose Theatre Collection, NYPL.

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