Peter Rabe’s Stop This Man! is a hardboiled crime thriller dealing with the theft of radioactive gold. Now that surely has to be a fun combination, and so it proves.
Tony Catell is a big-time criminal, or at least he was until he got sent down for an eight-year stretch in the penitentiary. Now he’s more or less forgotten, a has-been, and he’s pushing fifty. But Tony Catell is not finished yet. No sir. He’s not going to be a nobody. He’s going to be a big shot again. When one of his few remaining contacts, an old hand named Schumacher, sets up a job for him he jumps at it.
The job is simple. There’s an ingot of solid gold sitting in a government research facility and the security is laughably insufficient. For a pro like Tony it’s easy money. The robbery goes like clockwork and Catell sets off with his gold to meet Schumacher, but there’s one little snag. Schumacher forget to mention this gold is radioactive.
Catell thinks the whole radioactive story is a lot of hooey. As far as he’s concerned gold is gold and he’s unimpressed when Schumacher tries to convince him that this gold is going to be very difficult indeed to unload. Catell thinks Schumacher is just spinning him a line. He’ll set up a deal himself to sell the gold. And while he’s at it he steals Schumacher’s girlfriend Selma. Selma turns out to be a lot like the gold - not really such a good deal after all. She’s an alcoholic, and a self-pitying one at that. But after eight years in prison Tony just wants a woman.
Eventually Tony heads east, to LA, where he has a contact lined up. Once again things are more complicated than he hoped. His contact, Smith, is a big operator and drives a hard bargain. He’ll take the gold off Catell’s hands, but Catell has to do one heist for him first. There are further headaches, with one of Smith’s stooges taking an extreme dislike to him. But there’s one compensation. He meets Lily. She’s a singer. She’s twenty years old. Catell has never had any use for women apart from sex but now something strange is happening to him. He has a strong desire to settle down with Lily. In fact he’s contemplating marrying her.
Unfortunately Tony has more and more problems to deal with, big problems. The FBI is organising a mammoth manhunt for him. They’re not keen on the idea of hoodlums wandering about the countryside carrying ingots of radioactive gold, or radioactive anything for that matter. And Tony isn’t feeling so good. He’s been feeling pretty bad ever since he stole the gold. Nausea, headaches, weakness, all kinds of stuff. Naturally he discounts the idea it might have something to do with the radioactive ingot he’s been carrying about in his car. What do these scientists know anyway? The fact that quite a few people he’s been in contact with have been not feeling so good as well seems to Tony to be a mere coincidence. But things are starting to close in on Tony.
I have no idea if there really is such a thing as radioactive gold but it doesn’t really matter. The gold is merely what Alfred Hitchcock used to call a McGuffin. It means nothing in itself but it serves as a useful engine to drive the plot. It’s something both seductive and deadly for Catell to become totally obsessed by, and it provides a reason for the relentless FBI pursuit of him.
Catell is hardly a sympathetic character. He’s violent, selfish, ruthless and uncaring. At the same time his single-mindedness and his steely determination make him a fascinating protagonist. The odds are increasingly stacked against him but he’s a tough nut and we end up believing that if anyone can prevail against these odds it’s Tony Catell.
There’s plenty of action and Rabe lays on the hardboiled atmosphere nice and thick.
Recommended for hardboiled crime enthusiasts.