Tuesday, November 1, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Dark Chant in a Crimson Key: A Mongo Mystery by George C. Chesbro

 When I was a younger man, we'd go to Oklahoma City to visit my grandma which was always nice but like a lot of family visit-trips, it was also very nice to get away from your family for a while. When I was getting to be book crazy, I looked up all the used bookstores in the phone book (aging myself) and my mother and me would take a circuit. On one of these such trips I found myself with a copy of "Shadow of a Broken Man" by George C. Chesbro starring the world-renowned criminologist, former circus performer/martial artist turned private eye Dr. Robert "Mongo the Magnificent" Frederickson, who also happened to be a dwarf. I cracked that book open and it in turned cracked my mind open. 

It was dizzying display of spies, assassins, horror, detecting, action and suspense as Mongo, in true private eye fashion, doggedly unravels a mystery. I read it in one sitting at my grandma's house and was immediately hooked and it was one of those first tastes of genre-bending fiction that showed me that not all detective stories had to be like all the others. And Mongo is such a wonderful character, stubborn, loving, loyal, smart as hell and a tough cookie to boot. His supporting cast grew over time, and they are all as colorful and interesting as him. Eventually I read the books to hang out with friends. The Mongo books slip in and out of genres, sometimes straighter mysteries, sometime fantasy, sometimes horror, or sometimes they're international espionage tales. There's a Mongo for every mood. 

But they were hard to come by, Chesbro was never a best seller and though the series lasted a long time there never was a lot of copies floating around, I guess. Or people just kept 'em. But I slowly got quite a few of them, but eventually I got distracted by other books and then suddenly it dawned on me one day that I had all these Mongo's to read.

"Dark Chant in a Crimson Key" really starts in 1986 with a book by Chesbro called "Veil" which was supposed to kick off a Men's Adventure series about a badass ninja-ish 'nam vet named Veil Kendry. Well, his published basically thought the book was too "high-brow" for the M.A. market and asked him for a rewrite. He liked "Veil" so instead he just wrote a different book. Enter John "Chant" Sinclair. A badass ninja 'nam vet out to be badass. As David Cross, he got three books out of the series and published "Veil" too boot. Sweet deal. The Chant books are top shelf, nearly ignored Men's Adventure books.

Veil showed up in the Mongo books eventually (which is where I know him from) and with "Dark Chant in a Crimson Key" so does Chant. I plucked this one off the shelf simply because it was a mash-up of all his series characters and I thought it'd be a fun ride. 

And, hey, I was right.

Mongo is hired by a rich guy who controls a charitable organization who just got ripped off by the Master Criminal John Chant who used his cunning and master of disguise skills to funnel money and then brutally murder some people. Mongo is simply hired to go see how Interpol is doing on the investigation and takes the job mostly to have a nice Swiss vacation. But since this is a mystery/action novel he's soon in the middle of the trouble between an ancient Japanese cult of killers and the mysterious Chant. 

Before too long his brother Garth, Veil and his lady friend/snake-expert are all there and backing Mongo up as he hunts Chant and slowly peels the onion of the supposedly ruthless killer. It's a short book that is always interesting, even if the middle is bogged down in a little too much talking. But when Chant shows up the pages light on fire. There's constant danger, ninja mysticism, CIA skullduggery and easy banter. Chesbro seemed like he had a lot of fun with this one.

I've been meaning to read "Veil" for years and now that I've reacquainted myself with Chesbro's world I'd imagine I'll get to it quickly. 

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