Red Rag Blues Derek Robinson
Despite his questionable taste in footwear, Luis Cabrillo is a worthy hero in this dashing tale of Nazis and Mafiosi Mike Petty - The Observer 30th July 06
Having pretty much summed up the battle for the skies in both world wars in a sequence of novels that began with Goshawk Squadron, Derek Robinson returns to the world of spooks he first visited in The Eldorado Network in 1979. It doesn't matter if you haven't read the earlier book, which appears to be out of print anyway; Robinson, in his customarily obliging way, provides a postscript that tells you all you need to know about Luis Cabrillo and his role in the spoofing of the Nazis that went under the name of the Double Cross System.
When Cabrillo saunters ashore in Hoboken, New Jersey, off the San Felipe from Caracas, the very model of the Latin playboy, he is immediately identified by immigration as a smart-arse, and, very possibly because of his fruity suede shoes, a subversive into the bargain. Immigration is bang on the nail, but only we know that.
It is the summer of 1953 and Senator Joe McCarthy is in full cry, abetted in his holy crusade by none other than Robert Kennedy. Smart, talented, liberal people are on the run; Cabrillo, having blown all the cash he extracted from the Abwehr during the war, is merely on the make in the Land of the Free. McCarthy and Cabrillo are made for each other; each has something the other wants. McCarthy has ambition and money; Cabrillo has an endlessly fertile imagination.
Unfortunately for Cabrillo, his arrival in New York has been spotted by people unsympathetic about his wartime exploits, some of whom want revenge, some of whom can't afford to have him around. Prominent among the latter is Kim Philby, puffing around Manhattan on his bike with a gun in the basket, on the cusp, you might say, between London and Moscow. Protecting Cabrillo, in a vague sort of way, are Julie Conroy, an old mucker from wartime Lisbon, and Stevie Biaggi, gangster's moll, randy psycho, and a dead cert for Shirley MacLaine if ever the film were to be made.
If I say that the plot features the FBI, the KGB, the British secret service, a couple of ex-Nazis and the Mafia, plus more hitmen than you could shake a stick at, it makes Red Rag Blues sound like one of those pointlessly wacky crime capers descended from Hellzapoppin'. It is necessary to trust Robinson, however; his plots are always tightly controlled, as are his characters. Also, his dialogue is beyond compare - he hits the ground wisecracking on the first page and is still at it, without any sign of flagging, at the novel's close.
At a time when America is once again going through a seismic spasm of paranoia, Red Rag Blues is well timed. It plays with the notion that the world's most powerful nation is simultaneously the world's most sophisticated and the world's most stupid. It is, therefore, almost certainly a major threat to Homeland Security, but is highly recommended.
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