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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Ways, 26 May 2011
This review is from: Dangerous Ways: Selected Mysteries (Hardcover)
Fictionist Jack Vance may be best known for his SF&F novels, but he wrote over a dozen books in the arena of Crime Fiction, and Vance has personally maintained a lifelong enthusiasm for Mysteries. It is a genre Vance credits very seriously, and he utilized (generally) his real name, John Holbrook Vance, for his Mystery works. It is often remarked that many of his Science Fiction novels are in essence mystery stories set off-planet. However, the three novels in this collection, Dangerous Ways, remain safely in conventional settings, though two are in rather exotic locales of the South Pacific and North Africa.

The superb novel The Man In The Cage won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from Mystery Writers of America in 1960, and amazingly holds up in today's zeitgeist. Set picturesquely in 1950's North Africa during the conflict between French and Arab interests in Algeria, aspects on pan-Arabism resonate even today with contemporary readers. This page-turner is also one of Vance's Suspense-Mysteries, wherein the protagonist falls into dire jeopardy - hence not only its published title, but its working title: No-One Knows Where He Went. (Another Vance Suspense-Mystery is The Dark Ocean, this time with a female protagonist who is similarly resourceful & persevering in overcoming an apparently hopeless ordeal; it is well worth finding).

As the excellent Introduction to this collection elucidates, this and the other two novels are not so much "whodunnits" as they are really intriguing "why- and how-dunnits". (Yet Vance did write purely whodunit-style Mysteries; for example, his very popular Sheriff Joe Bain mystery novels.)

The featured initial novel, The Deadly Isles, is set in the South Pacific, and as with many Vance mysteries, the non-detective protagonist is forced into fulfilling the detective role. In fact, the fascinating stance of this novel is that it is a Reverse-Mystery: the would-be victim survives and soon identifies his attacker - albeit unknown to this attacker, who believes incorrectly in the success of his assigned killing - and then commences to track him covertly, and unravel all the mysterious circumstances. The story effortlessly carries the reader along as it unfolds, and is nicely paced. Period timeframe of this story stays modern-day and immaterial, (for even if it is actually the 1960's, it easily could be yesterday).

The last featured novel, Bad Ronald, is Vance's Suspense/ Thriller, and while it would certainly fall under the rubric of Crime Fiction, it contains no traditional Mystery per se, at least for readers. It is instead a `hider-in-the-house' gambit. As the Introduction relates informatively via mention of other Vance titles and villains, this `hider' reflects an acclaimed Vance character type: the artist-criminal. His being sensitive, creative, but misunderstood helps defray some of the repugnance for his crimes. His fantasy realm of Atranta effervesces with Vancian imagination. Of interest, he might actually be a prototype for this category of Vance anti-protagonist. Published in 1973, and also made into a television movie in 1974 (still available online, including Amazon), [but its ending is toned down: no killings], a finished draft of this existed in 1955, where its initial apropos title was Something Awful; thus this last published book of this collection's trio actually pre-dates the other two novels, (not to mention other Vance artist-criminals of this same enthralling ilk - for more on this see the book's Introduction).

This appealingly varied selection of Crime Fiction novels - an award-winning Suspense-Mystery, a clever Reverse-Mystery, and a seminal Suspense/ Thriller - help show Jack Vance for the superlative Master of Fiction that he is. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Three thrillers..., 14 Sep 2011
John Middleton (Brisbane, QLD, AUST) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dangerous Ways: Selected Mysteries (Hardcover)
Jack Vance is mostly known for his sci-fi and fantasy output, but he has also written a fair bit of "thriller/mystery" stuff too. This is three of those stories, all different in setting and style, but all in Vance's unique voice. If you want analysis by someone who seems to be more of a thriller genre reader than I am, I refer you to Mr Friedli's review.

All I can say is that I liked the book. Vance could probably write a telephone book and make it interesting. "The Deadly Isles" is murder and mayhem - with a soucon of sex - on the high South Seas. There is sailing, derring-do and disgiuse aplenty. "The Man in the Cage" is a superb adventure in Morocco during the Algerian rebellion, with drug-smugglers, gun-runners, Arab nationalists and jaded expats. There are pretty girls and fast cars, dingy bars and a mysterious letter.

In both the first two stories, the protagonist is an everyman hero, to some degree or other - remembering that at the time (the early 60's) it was pretty likely that an "everymen" had done military service and depending on their age, may well have served in a shooting war or two. Certainly there is an easy familiarity with guns and combat. The last story, "Bad Ronald" is told from the point of view of a sex criminal and murderer - a teenage boy with poor impulse control and an artistic temperament. Its well written, interesting - and the last 50 pages are some of the most horrifying stuff I have ever read, truly heartbreaking. Its not gratutiously written, its not the script for Saw 7, its just sheerly terrifying because it is made so real and possible. Watching Ronald's slow descent into madness is well done, but it's a bitter tale by the end, and its plainly meant to be sad and bleak, with only the faintest hint of an upbeat ending.

Having said that, its all superbly done. If you like thrillers, or Jack Vance - or even better, both - then this is a great read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I've only read "The Man in the Cage" so far..., 11 July 2011
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This review is from: Dangerous Ways: Selected Mysteries (Hardcover)
This book contains three stories; "The Deadly Isles", "The Man in the Cage" and "Bad Ronald".
When I have read the other stories I will delete this review and write a new one.
Thus far I have only read "The Man in the Cage". While this story may not be perfect, in my purely subjective opinion, it is a very good Vance story.
This is the first Vance story that I have read that does not even loosely fall into the fantasy or SF genres.
If anything the ending was a little bit weak, but even some great Vance stories have head weak endings; I can't really elaborate on this without spoiling.
The book is physically very solid and the pages are of thick paper, though in time they may yellow.
The more Vance I reads the more "echoes" I notice.
If you've ever enjoyed a story by Jack Vance, then you will probably enjoy this.
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Dangerous Ways: Selected Mysteries
Dangerous Ways: Selected Mysteries by Jack Vance (Hardcover - 31 May 2011)
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