When I started reading this book I had a headache. But after a few breezy chapters, the headache was gone. Such is the power of easy reading.
Reading Frank Gruber is sort of like watching Bones. You turn your mind off and let the story wash over you, and when it's over you feel mildly satisfied and mildly refreshed.
The French Key introduced Gruber’s two most famous characters, Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg. But as I mentioned some months back in a review of the short story collection Brass Knuckles, Fletcher and Cragg were actually just re-envisioned versions of two earlier characters, Oliver Quade the Human Encylopedia and his assistant Charlie Boston.
Both Fletcher and Quade are mobile-mouthed book salesmen, and Cragg is basically Charlie Boston with muscles. In both series, our heroes are perpetually broke and one step ahead of the law, but somehow find time to chase women and solve murders. It’s all good clean fun.
When The French Key was published in 1939, the coin was worth about $10,000. So how about today? An Internet source says there are only three known survivors, and two are in the Smithsonian. The one in private hands sold for $687,500 back in 1982, and is now valued at five million. Not bad. How much of that is due to inflation, and how much to collector mania? Elsewhere in The French Key, we learn that a New York eatery sells hamburgers for a nickel. I’ll let someone else do the math.
Republic released a film version in 1946. I haven't seen it, but Gruber wrote the screenplay himself, so it's probably not all bad. And Mike Mazurki (whom I remember best as Moose Malloy to Dick Powell's Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet) played Sam Cragg. According to IMDb, Johnny was supposed to be a private detective. Republic probably figured it would be hard to sell a book salesman hero to movie goers. If there was ever another movie based on this series, I'm not aware of it.
FORGOTTEN BOOKS are hosted this week at pattinase (I think).