This double novel contains two masterpieces by the great craftsman, Charles Williams, one from 1958 and one from 1960. The two novels are nominally connected through their nautical themes, the Florida Keys, and Panama, but approach the crime novel from entirely different angles.
The Sailcloth Shroud is a story, as so many are, about an innocent man up to his eyeballs in trouble from being blamed for killing a man at sea and stealing his fortune to being accused of lying about t by deadly serious mobsters. Sailing a small ketch from Panama to a Texas shouldn’t mean much trouble, but the crew of two don’t survive long. One man dies if a heart attack at sea and is given a watery burial. The other beaten to death days after landing, but not before this penniless bum flashes literally thousands in cash. Captain Stuart Rodgers is one of the good guys, but quickly everyone turns on him. It’s only on his say so that Baxter died at sea. No one else can vouch for what happened. The FBI have a few questions for the Captain, least of all who Baxter was and what happened to his money. The mobsters who hit to the surviving mate don’t believe Rodgers’ tale of a heart attack at sea and are out yo force the truth out of him no matter what it takes. You can feel the walls closing tightly around Rodgers as he has few directions left to turn.
The Concrete Flamingo” by Charles Williams was first published in 1958 under the title “All the Way” and then published in the United Kingdom in 1960 under the title “The Concrete Flamingo.”
What happens when Jerry Forbes, a guy who has been drifting between jobs, ends up in Miami Beach, and meets a Marian Forsyth, a woman who just wasted six years of her youthful vigor on a wealthy executive before being dumped for a younger model? Marian knows everything about Jerry and he is just the guy she has been looking for – – to pull off a murder and a complicated con job on her ex-boss, the guy who dumped her. Why is he the perfect guy for this part in the con? Well, Marian heard Jerry talking and, on the phone, he is Harris Chapman.
Jerry falls for her hook, line, and sinker. Murder, sure why not? Pilfering brokerage accounts? Why not? As long as they can run off to some Mediterranean isle when its done. Of course, it is never that simple when it’s a pulp novel and there are some twists and turns along the way that the reader does not expect.
Marian, meanwhile, is a different kind of femme fatale. She bewitches Jerry without even trying, but she “was as beautifully adept and as pleasant and as far away and unreachable as ever.” You wonder reading this if Marian had all the life sucked out of her by Harris Chapman and what she has left to give Jerry. She has a one-track mind and is on a mission and she will do whatever is necessary to keep Jerry in the game.
What’s terrific about this novel is the detail that Williams puts in as to the planning and execution of one of the most complicated and detailed scams ever invented. Week after week is spent preparing, rehearsing, getting ready for the role of a lifetime. Marion tells him: “In ten days of extensive study, you could become Harris Chapman.” If he pulls this off right, then Not even Chapman’s own fiancé should suspect anything. Yeah, right. No detail is left unplanned. Nothing is left to chance.
The actual plot line can be boiled down fairly simply, but this book is not about the plot so much as it is about getting there and what happens ultimately when the con is pulled off.