Scratch One by Michael Crichton

(5.5/10)

Michael Crichton writing as John Lange

To prevent an arms shipment from reaching the Middle East a terrorist group has been carrying out targeted assassinations in Egypt, Portugal, Denmark and France. In response, the US sends one of its deadliest agents to take the killers down. But when the agent is delayed in transit, lawyer Roger Carr gets mistaken for him. Now, with some of the world’s deadliest men after him, will he stay alive long enough to prove his identity?

Originally released in 1967 under the pseudonym John Lange, Scratch One is very much a product of its time with very wealthy men selling arms, murdering one another, and managing their dirty dealings on the French Riviera. Roger Carr is buying a villa for a US governor and of course is a handsome, privileged man who swans around drinking and picking up women. Unfortunately a case of mistaken identity means his jaunt to the Riviera turns into one of people being machine gunned down from speeding cars, poisoned with strychnine, imprisoned in guarded villas and tortured with acid.

The entire thing is Bond without Bond – every single woman in the book is described in terms of how her body looks, and is inevitably referred to as ‘the girl’ in conversations between men. ‘The girl’ is always a bit silly as well, and fairly useless because, as we all know, women are incapable of doing a job without falling in love and being pathetic about it. The villain is pure James Bond – a surgeon who likes playing with scalpels and lives in his guarded villa, ordering assassinations. 

The plot is fairly irrelevant – the point of this book is to have a man careering about in a fast car, living dangerously, and saving the girl. So, whether you’ll want to read it or not depends on whether you can take all of this with a pinch of salt and enjoy the ridiculously dated situations and characters. It’s action packed, has all of the obligatory stock characters and I can see why people like reading these as a guilty pleasure, but even though I enjoy Bond films for how ridiculous they are, my interest in Scratch One was fairly limited.

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