Wednesday 23 February 2011

Bleeck Week: Protocol for a Kidnapping by Oliver Bleeck (Ross Thomas); Hodder First Edition, Cover Design by Lawrence Ratzkin

And so this week's worth of posts on crime/espionage/thriller writer Ross Thomas's pseudonymous series of novels starring urbane go-between Philip St. Ives continues with a book which should really have been the second post this week, not the third:

This is the UK hardback first edition of Protocol for a Kidnapping, published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1971 – the same year, in fact, that the US William Morrow first edition saw publication. And as we established in yesterday's post on The Procane Chronicle/The Thief Who Painted Sunlight/St. Ives – a missive so tiresomely tortuous I suspect it would have tried the patience of a saint – Protocol for a Kidnapping is the second novel in Bleeck/Thomas's St. Ives series, not the third. That's also been confirmed by Ross Thomas aficionado Book Glutton, who, in a comment on Monday's post about The Brass Go-Between, revealed that "early in Protocol for a Kidnapping, St. Ives makes a direct reference to his recent African shield fiasco (which means the first book, The Brass Go-Between). That makes Protocol the clear number two." So really, as I say, I should've posted this yesterday.

Never mind, eh? Let's put it behind us, and take a look at the dustjacket flap copy on this edition of Protocol for a Kidnapping:

Philip St. Ives, the top professional go-between introduced last year in The Brass Go-Between, is back in action. In this new novel of intrigue, St. Ives is coerced by the Department of State into recovering the U.S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia. The diplomat has been kidnapped and is being held for a ransom of $1,000,000 and the release of a Nobel Prize-winning poet. It's a complicated assignment that becomes downright deadly as St. Ives finds himself involved with a Broadway actor, a 30-year-old millionaire, the poet's breathtakingly beautiful daughter, and a sexy CIA agent.

One million dollars, eh? How very Austin Powers. Intriguingly, the back flap copy states, "OLIVER BLEECK [their caps, not mine] is the pseudonym of Ross Thomas, one of the world's outstanding suspense novelists", and then goes on to list Thomas's non-pseudonymous hits. And yet, on the back flap of The Thief Who Painted Sunlight – which was published in the UK a year after Protocol – it merely states, "Oliver Bleeck is the pseudonym of a well-known writer". So did Hodder mistakenly 'out' Thomas on Protocol and then for Thief hope that readers either had a very short memory or hadn't read a Bleeck before?

The dustjacket design on Protocol is by Lawrence Ratzkin, who I covered fairly extensively in this post on Ross Thomas's The Backup Men, published in the same year as Protocol. So I don't have much to add about him here, except to mention that I did chance across this 2010 article in Glasgow's The Herald newspaper on the controversial "Ground Zero mosque" in New York, in which Ratzkin is quoted taking an anti-mosque protester to task. "This country has a document that guarantees freedom of religion," Ratzkin tells him. "If you believe in this country, whatever your feelings, you have to live by that." Go Lawrence. If nothing else, it proves that, as of 2010, Mr. Ratzkin was alive and well, something I wasn't sure about in that Backup Men post.

The dustjacket on the Hodder edition of Protocol for a Kidnapping seems to be identical to the Morrow edition, so there's little point in showing you the American one. But as we'll see in the next post, when Hamish Hamilton picked up the UK Bleeck rights from Hodder with The Highbinders, the cover designs for the novels took a turn for the... idiosyncratic...


  1. I love the cover for Protocol for a Kidnapping. St.Ives used to work for the kidnapped Ambassador many years before at a newspaper - and his nickname at the paper was The Chicken. A kidnapped ambassadorial chicken makes for a smart, great cover. And the clever cover makes up for the clunker of a title.

    The Thief Who Painted Sunlight is an infinitely better title than The Procane Chronicle. I hate that generic formula of definite article plus proper noun plus noun equals thriller title (e.g., The Eiger Sanction, The Bourne Identity, The Holcroft Covenant, The DaVinci Code).

  2. Gracias for the insight into Ratzkin's cover design. I could do with your assistance on the next post too... By the way, I meant to ask: how the hell have you heard of Eastenders?!

  3. I thought everyone knew about Eastenders. Eastenders has been on TV here for ages. PBS - our public broadcaster - carries it. It has a cult following in the US and is widely known for being that British soap opera that's on PBS. For a long time it was probably the one British TV show that most Americans who could name a British TV show would name.

    Never watched it, though. I do enjoy many of your other fine TV shows.

  4. Well there you go. I had no idea it had travelled so far. You're not missing out on not watching it though. It's rather shrill and frequently irritating. Much like me. And thanks for the commentary throughout this week!