ON THE EVE OF REVOLUTION, EGYPT IS A TINDERBOX.
WILL ONE AMERICAN LIGHT THE SPARK THAT SETS IT ABLAZE?
Gore Vidal was one of America’s greatest and most controversial writers. The author of twenty-three novels, five plays, three memoirs, numerous screenplays and short stories, and well over two hundred essays, he received the National Book Award in 1993.
In 1953, Vidal had already begun writing the works that would launch him to the top ranks of American authors and intellectuals. But in the wake of criticism for the scandalous content of his third novel, The City and the Pillar, Vidal turned to writing crime fiction under pseudonyms: three books as “Edgar Box” and one as “Cameron Kay.” The Edgar Box novels were subsequently republished under his real name. The Cameron Kay never was.
Lost for more than 60 years and overflowing with political and sexual intrigue, Thieves Fall Out provides a delicious glimpse into the mind of Gore Vidal in his formative years. By turns mischievous and deadly serious, Vidal tells the story of a man caught up in events bigger than he is, a down-on-his-luck American hired to smuggle an ancient relic out of Cairo at a time when revolution is brewing and heads are about to roll.
One part Casablanca and one part torn-from-the-headlines tabloid reportage, this novel also offers a startling glimpse of Egypt in turmoil -- written over half a century ago, but as current as the news streaming from the streets of Cairo today.
Reviewed by S.T. Joshi Some years after the publication of his bestselling novel The City and the Pillar (1948), Gore Vidal (1925 2012) felt that critics and publishers had become prejudiced against him because of the controversial subject matter of that work (a pioneering treatment of homosexuality), so he published an array of pseudonymous novels to generate income. Some of these have become popular, notably the three mystery stories published under the pseudonym Edgar Box (1952 54). Two other novels published as paperback originals, however, are little known, because Vidal refused to allow them to be reprinted, though he eventually acknowledged their authorship. One is A Star's Progress (1950, written under the pseudonym Katherine Everard), a lurid novel about a movie star who fails to find happiness in spite of her fame. The other is the fabulously rare Thieves Fall Out (1953), which appeared under the gender-neutral pseudonym Cameron Kay and is now available again in this welcome reprint. The novel focuses on Pete Wells, a former Army officer, who falls in with a bluff Englishman named Hastings and H l ne, Comtesse de Rastignac. The two of them offer Pete a cut of the profits for sneaking an immensely valuable artifact (the necklace of Queen Tiy) out of the country. The implausibility of this scenario is deliberate, and throughout the story Pete wrestles with the mystery of why these smart and sophisticated people have entrusted him with this delicate mission. Matters are complicated by Pete's falling in love with a young nightclub singer, Anna Mueller, the daughter of a high-ranking Nazi officer. Vidal reportedly composed Thieves Fall Out on a Dictaphone, which perhaps accounts for his somewhat bland, affectless prose. There are no dates in the novel, but Vidal's original readers would have recognized that it is set in the summer of 1952, when the corrupt King Farouk of Egypt was overthrown by Gamal Abdel Nasser (with some help from the CIA). Vidal, who had visited Egypt in 1948, deftly interweaves the political turmoil of the moment into his tale. Readers expecting the acerbic wit of Vidal's satires (Myra Breckinridge, Live from Golgotha) or the immense erudition and epic sweep of his historical novels (Burr, Lincoln) will no doubt be disappointed by Thieves Fall Out. But it perfectly fulfills its humbler purpose by providing a thrill-a-minute roller-coaster ride, with vital characters acting out their parts in a vivid and exotic setting. It would make a fine action film.S.T. Joshi is the author of Gore Vidal: A Comprehensive Bibliography and the editor of the American Rationalist.