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Thieves Fall Out


Thieves Fall Out

by Gore Vidal, writing as Cameron Kay

In its short decade-long history, Hard Case Crime has rescued lost novels from some of our greatest writers, including James M. Cain, Michael Crichton and Donald E. Westlake, as well as the great filmmaker Samuel Fuller. For those authors alone, Hard Case and its founder and editor, Charles Ardai, have assured their place in literary history.

But now, just when you thought Hard Case could not do anything more amazing, comes THIEVES FALL OUT, the lost novel by Gore Vidal, writing in 1953 as Cameron Kay. It is being published three years after the great writer’s death for the first time under his own name. Vidal wrote pulp fiction? Who knew?

And therein lies a tale that shows you how far America has come in six decades. Vidal was already on his way to establishing himself as a great writer when he published THE CITY AND THE PILLAR in 1948. But his portrayal of a male homosexual relationship set off such a firestorm that he was effectively blacklisted. The New York Times book critic was so offended that he banned any Vidal book from being reviewed in the paper.

Much like Dalton Trumbo and the famous Hollywood writers blacklisted in the Red Scare at the same time, Vidal had to find another way to publish his work and survive. So he turned to crime and pulp fiction, publishing books under the names Edgar Box and Cameron Kay. The Box novels sold well and allowed Vidal to earn a living. They were subsequently republished under his own name. The Kay novels, like most pulp fiction, simply disappeared.

Until now. If you were a fan of Vidal’s historical novels and truthful, biting, political commentary, as I was, you might wonder if Vidal could do a pulp crime and adventure tale. The answer is a resounding yes. THIEVES FALL OUT is a terrific, page-turning pulp story, and you see signs of the great writer emerging on every page.

Peter Wells, 31, finds himself waking up in a Cairo hotel room, rolled of all his money, $350 in traveler’s checks. Vidal describes a visitor to his room: “She enters the room scowling, a dark skinned woman wearing a loose robe. She was good looking, in a heavy way, with large black eyes as blank and unblinking as a rat...she put out her hand in the universal gesture.”

He is not in Kansas anymore, and this is not a Holiday Inn.

"THIEVES FALL OUT is a terrific, page-turning pulp story, and you see signs of the great writer emerging on every page.... Great work by Charles Ardai and Hard Case Crime for rescuing it so we can enjoy it now."

The name “Wells” is interesting because the story put me in the mind of Orson Welles’ great film noir, The Lady from Shanghai, which came out several years before this book. Like Black Irish Michael O’Hara in Lady, Vidal’s Wells soon finds himself in over his head in Egypt, which is roiling with political intrigue during the last days of the real King Farouk.

Unable to get help from the American consulate, Wells soon falls in with a bunch of exotic characters we might encounter in a Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet movie.Everybody has an angle, and in true noir fashion, little is what it seems, except everybody reeks with danger. Wells is offered $900 to take a trip up the Nile to pick up a package, which turns out to be a priceless antique, the necklace of Queen Tay.

Like the character in The Lady from Shanghai, this Wells has incredible luck in attracting the most dangerous, if beautiful, women in the world. One was the mistress of the most important Nazi agent in Egypt. Wells innocently asks what happened to him and learns: “He was shot, I believe, while with her at their house on Avenue Faud Premier. She buried him decently. Germany fell. She did not fall with it.”


And then there is Anna Mueller, her hair “a natural red gold, more dark than light, like dull copper.” She just happens to be involved with the King, who is about to get his fat butt violently tossed off the throne.

Do not expect BURR or LINCOLN or one of Vidal’s more famous novels. It is what it is: wildly entertaining pulp fiction. And it accomplishes what pulp is supposed to do: it makes you keep turning the pages to see how Wells escapes this mess.

Vidal proves in THIEVES FALL OUT that great writers can truly write anything and make it interesting. But they can also do something else: tell the truth of their time and link it to universal truths. For example, Vidal has a character tell the naïve American, “Business does not stop because people decide to kill one another on a large scale. If anything, business becomes even more interesting and profitable then.”

If there is one place where killing has gone on in an epic scale in recent years, it is the Middle East, with no signs of abating. Indeed, Egypt, one the most stable, if repressive, regimes in the region for decades after the King, has seen two governments ousted since the Arab spring, both accompanied with buckets of bloodshed. And the smuggling of antiquities is a profitable, if deadly, business in Syria and what was once Iraq. So it is not hard to imagine Vidal’s long-lost story being acted out today.

Gore Vidal was one of the greatest authors America ever produced. It is hard to believe now that he was once called “queer” on national TV by no less a respected person than William F. Buckley. And it is hard to believe that he was once blacklisted because of his sexual orientation. But this is how repression destroys lives. Vidal transcended it due to his great ability and spirit. Many did not.

But what resulted was THIEVES FALL OUT, lost to the world for over 60 years. Great work by Charles Ardai and Hard Case Crime for rescuing it so we can enjoy it now. May they keep digging and surprising and delighting us long into the future. This is a publishing house with a true purpose.

Reviewed by Tom Callahan on April 24, 2015

Thieves Fall Out
by Gore Vidal, writing as Cameron Kay

  • Publication Date: April 21, 2015
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Hard Case Crime
  • ISBN-10: 1781167923
  • ISBN-13: 9781781167922