|Nov 13 2023
Around the world in 180 pages (or thereabouts).
Wouldn't it be great to sail away to an exotic island, live in a hotel, and write novels? Ed Lacy was the archetypal globetrotting author, and 1963's Two Hot To Handle is a product of that lifestyle. It's two novellas joined: “Murder in Paradise,” set in Tahiti, and “The Coin of Adventure,” set on the other side of the planet in Tuscany.
“Murder in Paradise” is the tale of an American named Ray Judson and his local wife Ruita, who live reclusively on a small island, and are hired by a Hollywood studio to help scout locations for an adventure movie. Does this idea sound familiar? It should. We guess this sort of thing happened in real life enough to inspire a few novels.
Anyway, when the leading lady is murdered the police point the finger at Ruita, and Ray desperately undertakes to find the real killer. We're going to start using the shorthand term “find-the-real-killer novels” to refer to these plotlines. By day Ruita eludes the cops by hiding out on a tiny islet, and by night she ventures ashore to assist her husband and sneak in some moonlit lovin. Avoiding prison is important, but you gotta get your freak on too.
“The Coin of Adventure” is about Kent Kelly, an American adventurer in Viareggio, Italy, who learns that fascists fleeing at the end of World War II abandoned a hoard of stolen gold in a cave. He and a partner head after the loot, but death and betrayal are always uninvited passengers on such missions.
Of the two stories we liked “Murder in Paradise” a little better. Lacy, it's clear, strove to correctly portray Tahiti without resorting to travelogue or showy displays of local language. He was interested in the people. To even write a character like Ruita, who decides to work for the moviemakers to ensure that they get the details of her culture correct, shows his empathy for island folk. She's an excellent character—ambitious enough to want to influence how her people are portrayed in Hollywood, naive enough to think she can really do it. With Lacy leading the way we'll go anywhere. Tahiti? Tuscany? You bet.
French PolynesiaItalyTahitiPapeeteViareggioPaperback LibraryEd LacyLeonard ZinbergCharles Copelandcover artliterature