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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


George Axelrod

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To purchase Blackmailer

Title: Blackmailer
Author: George Axelrod
Genre: Novel
Written: 1952
Length: 202 pages
Availability: Blackmailer - US
Blackmailer - UK
Blackmailer - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : a bit ridiculous, but enough to it to make it worthwhile

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Blackmailer centres around the last manuscript of the very, very Hemingway-like author Charles Anstruther, The Winding Road to the Hills. Axelrod throws in the name Hemingway as a small pretense that his Anstruther isn't one and the same (e.g.: " Anstruther was probably not a better writer than Steinbeck, Hemingway, or half a dozen others"), but otherwise leaves little room for doubt. Anstruther, too, is a Nobel laureate who shot himself (or at least appears to ...) with his own rifle, who drank heavily and travelled widely. And then there's his style:

Anstruther's style was widely imitated. It is, when you come right down to it, a matter of using short sentences and having your characters speak tersely about death and the exotic scenery.
       And the ease with which the distinctive style can be imitated also plays a crucial role in this story .....
       Blackmailer is narrated by Dick Sherman, of Conrad, Sherman, Inc., Publishers. Conrad Sherman seems to be doing well enough, but it's a small house that mainly does textbooks and has fairly small ambitions: "we've never tackled anything more complicated than a volume of Triple-Cross-O-Grams". So Sherman is a bit surprised (and suspicious) when he receives not one but two exclusive offers to publish Anstruther's last manuscript -- a book that will obviously make a mint and attract a lot of attention.
       The first offer comes from a mysterious young woman named Jean Dahl, the second from a powerful literary agent named Max Shriber. Each gives him a very limited amount of time to agree to their terms. Matters immediately get more complicated when he goes to lunch and sees his old flame Janis Whitney (now a successful film actress) whom he hadn't seen in ten years -- and learns that she was dining with none other than Max Shriber. (Sherman, of course, immediately also realises: "I was still in love with Janis Whitney and always had been." )
       Jean Dahl has hardly popped over for a friendly visit when some thugs come in and break everything breakable in the apartment, apparently looking for something. When he's back on his feet again Sherman goes to one of Walter Heinemann's parties; parties is what Heinemann does -- big parties. But -- wouldn't you know it ? -- he's mixed up in this Anstruther business as well, and his crowded and popular house turns out to serve some additional purposes, which adds to the mix.
       Sherman peels away layer after layer, but just comes up with more dirt and confusion. Axelrod gets pretty inventive with the twists, especially surrounding the manuscript, and by the end it gets downright silly -- but it's also somehow satisfying in its ridiculousness. Along the way Sherman takes and gives a few punches, there's way too much drinking, and people do wind up dead.
       Walter boasts: "I have an amazing gift for mimicry", but he's not the only one, and the dangers of imitation -- of voices and writing styles -- are at the core of the novel -- as the novel itself is an imitation pulpish-noir that can't get the tone quite right (though it almost sounds like Axelrod is doing that on purpose). Sherman is out of his element here: he plays a noir protagonist, but deep down he really is just a textbook publisher; he knows he's playing -- and he's just trying to do his best with the part. Typically:
     Holding the gun in front of me like I had seen them do in the movies, I advanced into the room.
       The plot is a bit too convoluted, the presentation a bit clumsy and rushed -- it's a book that isn't so much fast-paced as one which stumbles along headlong, almost always on the verge of splattering flat on the floor (but always -- just -- catching itself). Still, the villainy is fun, the broads are a load of fun, and the publishing angle is pretty entertaining too. One can't really say it's much good, but it is a decent little dark and amusing read.

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Blackmailer: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author George Axelrod is best known for The Seven Year Itch, and also wrote the screenplays for the film versions of The Manchurian Candidate and Breakfast at Tiffany's

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© 2007-2008 the complete review

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