Saturday, December 19, 2020

Murder for Empire / Intrigue for Empire, 1944

 

fantasticfiction.com

Major characters:

  • Pat Torreon, just out of a concentration camp
  • Judith Trowbridge, magazine correspondent
  • Brad Maury, magazine correspondent
  • Tom de Vasco, Brad's friend
  • Señor Ibarra
  • Stanley Pierce, a newspaperman
  • Nina Rodriguez, cold as ice

Locale: Morocco, Cuba

Synopsis: It is 1944-1945? and Pat Torreon, a Mexican, has just been liberated from one of Franco's concentration camps in Morocco. He is waiting for transport back, but all air travel is reserved for necessary travel; and Torreon - being a liberated prisoner - has no passport. He encounters Judith Trowbridge, an American correspondent. While having dinner at a cafe, another customer - Judith's co-worker, Brad Maury, falls dead - poisoned. Pat examines the body and lifts his passport, along with an identification bracelet.

Maury had arranged transport for Judith and himself to the US via Cuba. Pat decides to stand in as Maury and take his place on the plane. He finds Maury's bracelet has the name of a historical Spanish figure. A gunman, Señor Ibarra, enters Pat's room, demanding Maury's papers. Pat shoots him in the scuffle. He finds this Ibarra is wearing a simliar bracelet. Pat and Judith get on the plane and go to Cuba.

In Cuba, Judith looks up a newspaper friend, Stanley Pierce, who suggests the men are part of an Axis plot, named Hispaniadad, to take control of countries in Central and South America; and the bracelets are a token to identify each other.

Review: A love-struck couple is stuck in Morocco toward the end of WW II, trying to find passage to the Americas. Sound familiar? It should - being the same setup as 1942's Casablanca. Perhaps this 1944 novel was inspired by Casablanca, as was a number of spin-off films of the time. The difference? This time, the guy and girl both make the plane. 

This is the first spy novel by K.M.K. I have read (not sure if there are others) and it is a far cry from quiet little Pemberthy Island. The plot is exciting, the characters well developed.  Mixed feelings about protagonist Pat Torreon - a good guy, but a bit quick on the trigger. Judith is an assertive news reporter but does run to tears when the going gets tough. Nina Rodriguez makes a great evil-mastermind's-moll in her sexy outfits, a la James Bond movies. The marriage-of-convenience ploy may have been necessary at the time, but is passé now. The story element of the I.D. bracelets works well. 

The edition I have is a 1944 wartime oversize paperback titled 'Murder for Empire'. The cover proudly proclaims "A full length novel", yet the flyleaf states in tiny print "This edition respresents an abridgement of the original to speed the action."