Researcher and Writer in Washington, DC

John Gardner, The Liquidator (NY: The Viking Press, 1964)

Gardner-The-LiquidatorOnce More to the Recycling Bin by Kevin R. Kosar

I came across the book in a recycling bin; it was piled in there with other titles from three or more decades back.  Their authors were the pop stars of their time, DeVries, Simenon, Michener, and Ludlum. The books had been discarded because the owner had died. I hate to see books go to pulp, so I poked through them and grabbed a few.

I certainly do not need any more books. But, I told myself I was rescuing them. Besides, this one is just 182 pages. I can cut through that quickly.

And this looked like fun.  A spy story set in swinging England and featuring a guy named Boysie Oakes (Not to be confused with William F. Buckley’s Blackford Oakes). Grand, mindless entertainment.

As I later learned, this was the first of Gardner’s Boysie Oakes novels. The Liquidator was so liked that it was developed into a film. Well, hoo-rah for the late John Gardner (1926-2007).

But heaven help the reader itching for a buoyant diversion.

This book was conceptualized wonderfully. Gardner takes a lot of the standard spy novel features and turns them upside down. So, Oakes appears to be a heartless assassin and Casanova. In truth, he is weak-kneed and a sucker for a pretty face.

His execution of the story though, is not good. It is as if Gardner could not decide whether he is writing a spoof or a thriller.

The book also is pockmarked with god awful writing, some that provokes grimaces.  One wonders what sort of editor would let bits like this pass:

Replacing the requisites of good grooming in the clear glass cupboard, he [Boysie] stepped away from the magnifying mirror, running the backs of his right-hand fingers to and fro over the freshly barbered jowl, now smooth as nylon stretched tightly over arched female buttocks (p. 5).

This is not the only passage worthy of the “dark and stormy night” award.

Much to my despair, the book just plods along. It took me nearly 5 hours to get through this slim volume.

Initially, I tried to cut The Liquidator some slack. It’s trying to be funny, I told myself… Maybe it was aimed at rubes, folks who would be titillated by descriptions of Nice and and the heavy consumption of liquor.

In the end, though, I could not fool myself.  The Liquidator was a  half-baked, hokey espionage novel, and I probably should return it to the recycling bin.

John Gardner, 1964

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