I was absolutely shocked when I stumbled upon this Handi Books edition of Seven Men. I’d known that there was a 1980’s Starmont Facsimile edition of this obscure Theodore Roscoe novel, but all the copies I’d ever seen floated above my price point. Seven Men was originally published in the April 12, 1941 edition of Detective Fiction Weekly, and I had assumed that the Starmont version was the only actual novelization. But there it was – a Handi Books edition for an affordable price.
I’m a bit of a sucker for Handi Books, having collected a half dozen or so. The publisher specialized in mystery novels by extremely obscure authors; Cornell Woolrich and Anthony Gilbert being the most “famous” names that I’ve noted in their library. The few books that I’ve read are actually pretty awful, and I imagine Handi Books was going after some low hanging fruit when it came to publishing rights.
So if the stories are so bad, why do I love these? Well, the covers tend to be really nice, the books are the perfect size (for my taste), and these have aged the best of any other paperbacks that I’ve seen, with a feel similar to well worn leather.
So here I have a combination of one of my favorite authors and one of my favorite publishers, and top it off by being a book that I’ve never even seen reviewed! A nearly unheard of Theodore Roscoe mystery! I couldn’t wait to dive in.
Well, unfortunately, Seven Men is not a mystery, in spite of the word “mystery” being featured twice on the cover of my copy. Nor for that matter is it really even good, and I’m guessing that a year from now I’ll have forgotten completely any details about the plot.
It’s a strange book, with Roscoe providing two completely different stories that only intersect at the very end. The stories are interlaced throughout the book, with each chapter featuring a portion of both stories.
One story features a man shipwrecked in the Florida Keys. Suffering from amnesia, he stumbles upon a Quaker doctor and his daughter, who nurse our man back to health and name him Thursday after the day they found him. After returning to full strength, he battles swordfish, sharks, bobcats, and alligators, and eventually encounters some lowlifes lurking around the island chain. I suppose this sort of adventure went over well in the pulps, but there isn’t much of a story arc. It ambles on through a series of fragmented episodes before Roscoe apparently decided to wrap things up.
The other story focuses on a pair of FBI agents on the hunt for six gangsters who were involved in a deadly robbery. Each chapter finds the agents tracking down one of the cons, although “tracking down” is probably generous, as they pretty much just stumble upon their prey through sheer coincidence. There’s one chapter with a somewhat exciting chase, but mostly this is generic cops and robbers, and the type of stuff that you likely stereotype the pulps for.
I wouldn’t say that Seven Men is bad, but it doesn’t really have anything going for it. It’s interesting enough that I never tired of it, but it also never grabbed me. Which is really weird, because Theodore Roscoe wrote some outstanding stuff – see Murder on the Way, Four Corners, or To Live and Die in Dixie. I didn’t recognize Roscoe’s typically pitch perfect writing in this, and it read more like something by Van Wyck Mason or Wyatt Blassingame.
Well, I guess the anticipation of reading this was the best part of the book. At least now we know what it is, and with the exception of Roscoe completists, I’d say nobody else has to bother.
2 thoughts on “Seven Men – Theodore Roscoe (1942)”
Man, you know you’re deep in a genre when the line “…it read more like something by Van Wyck Mason or Wyatt Blassingame” features in a review 🙂
This looks like a superb edition, and I was hopeful you had a gem on your hands — more Roscoe to track down! — but it’s perhaps unsurprising that this turned out to be more pulp fictioneering. Fun while it lasts, but probably unmemorable a year from now, as you say.
Aah, well. The Next Great Roscoe Hunt continues…
Ah, what might have been…