Axel Spade's Geneva office is tidier than one would expect from a man who's wanted in twenty-six countries. A consulting criminal who sells advice on smuggling, fraud, and currency manipulation, Spade operates in style by staying on the good side of the American and Swiss authorities. But when his future son-in-law disappears after defrauding American servicemen of three million dollars, Spade becomes a target of Interpol, the CIA, and every GI with an empty wallet and a gun.
He flies Washington PI Chester Drum to Switzerland to find the lost loot. But the sight of Spade's hired goons manhandling a ruined American soldier sours Drum on helping the crook. When the destitute GI is found stabbed to death in his hotel room, Drum resolves to bring the killers to justice, no matter how stylish they might be. And of course, he won't mind if he finds three million bucks along the way.
'Very few writers of the tough private-eye story can tell it more accurately than Mr. Marlowe, or with such taut understatement of violence and sex.' - The New York Times Book Review.
'Often brash and violent ... with an impish sense of humor.' - The Independent.
'Marlowe's buoyant skill and credibility lie in the way he has put breath into [his] characters.' -The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
'Langton's sparkling prose and inimitable wit offer a delectable feast for the discriminating reader.' - Publishers Weekly.
'Like Jane Austen and Barbara Pym, Langton is blessed with the comic spirit-a rare gift of genius to be cherished.' - St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Stephen Marlowe (1928-2008) was the author of more than fifty novels, including nearly two dozen featuring globe-trotting private eye Chester Drum. Born Milton Lesser, Marlowe was raised in Brooklyn and attended the College of William and Mary. After several years writing science fiction under his given name, he legally adopted his pen name, and began focusing on Chester Drum, the Washington-based detective who first appeared in The Second Longest Night (1955).
Although a private detective akin to Raymond Chandler's charactersrlowe, Drum was distinguished by his jet-setting lifestyle, which carried him to various exotic locales from Mecca to South America. These espionage-tinged stories won Marlowe acclaim, and he produced more than one a year before ending the series in 1968. After spending the 1970s writing suspense novels like The Summit (1970) and The Cawthorn Journals (1975), Marlowe turned to scholarly historical fiction. He lived much of his life abroad, in Switzerland, Spain, and France, and died in Virginia in 2008.
A CREW of workmen were busy sliding lightweight plastic walls into place and fussing with glass brick space-dividers when I stepped off the elevator. In spotless white coveralls and blue or black berets, they looked more like beatnik surgeons than construction stiffs. They worked neatly, cleanly, quietly and efficiently. Why shouldn't they? After all, this was Switzerland.
Half a dozen pale and narrow-shouldered specimens were hunched over drafting tables drawing graphs; they ignored my arrival the way only mathematicians or professional gamblers can. They were not professional gamblers. One of them was busy feeding data cards into a small computer that lit up like a pinball machine.
I went past them to the one finished inner wall of the suite. In the middle of it was a door that looked like a giant playing card, with the letter A and a spade in the upper left- and lower right-hand corners. In the middle of the door, in plain black lettering against the dazzling white playing-card surface, was the name A XEL S PADE. Under that, in French, German and English, were three words, all meaning the same thing: Conseil-Ratschlag-Advice.
Axel Spade did not give advice to the lovelorn. He did not give advice on the market, or on snow conditions in the ski resorts across the border in French High Savoy, or on what number to call if you wanted a tooth pulled or a suit made to measure or an artful roll in the hay. He had an office on Wall Street in New York, in addition to this one here on Rue du Rhône in Geneva, and you bought his time, if you could afford it, at a cool hundred bucks or four hundred thirty Swiss francs per half hour. Since that is my going rate per day, when I'm working, I was impressed. I was even more impressed by the sort of advice Axel Spade gave.
Axel Spade gave finanacial advise to smugglers and international criminals.
The playing-card door opened out toward me just as I was reaching for the knob, and I stepped aside to let a woman pass. The men at the drafting tables looked up from their graph paper, the workmen removed their berets, shuffling their feet and gawking, and even the computer seemed to light up brighter than before.
She was a tall and poised number in a breast- and hip-hugging cornflower-blue suit that exactly matched the color of her big and beautiful eyes. A silver mink was draped casually over one arm. Her titian-colored hair was thick and long, spilling in gentle waves halfway down her back. She wore a fluff of silk at her throat, the same color as her hair. The titian hair, the poise, the wry but sultry smile on her full red lips, the very white skin-Venice by way of Rome, I thought. But her classic profile, with almost no indent between brow and nose, was pure Greek.
One of the workmen found a stub of pencil in a pocket of his coveralls and approached the dish shyly, holding out a scrap of paper. She signed her autograph, and he beamed and went back to his work, dropping a glass brick. She wiggled the cornflower blue skirt over to the elevator; at the same moment the door slid soundlessly back as if it had been waiting just for her. It slid silently shut, and she went down and out of the workmen's lives, out of the mathematicians' and the computer's lives-but not out of mine.
When I turned back to the big playing-card door, it was still ajar. A man stood there, short, broad of shoulder, dark, with a low hairline and sleek dark hair graying at the temples, and a suave and flashing white-toothed smile, as Continental as his business address.
"Mr. Drum?" he said, looking up at me. "I see you are prompt. I appreciate that." His accent was slight and hard to place. Middle Europe, with some years in the States, I guessed, but he probably had more countries in his background than I had fillings in my teeth.
"Thank Swissair and Boeing," I said as we s