Hard Case Crime 10/06: The Last Match by David Dodge (#25)

In Print for the First Time Anywhere —

When a handsome swindler working the French Riviera meets a beautiful heiress on the beach at Cannes, sparks fly. But so do bullets – and soon he’s forced to flee the country with both the police and the heiress on his trail.

From the casinos of Monaco to the jungles of Brazil, from Tangier to Marrakech to Peru, the chase is on. And not even a veteran of Monte Carlo’s baccarat tables would dare to place odds on where it will end…

Narrator and main character Curly begins the novel as a minor-league sort-of gigolo, then embarks on a life of crime. A man of limited (but not zero) conscience, Curly professes that the various criminal enterprises he indulges in over the course of the novel (smuggling, grifting) are because he doesn’t care to do an honest day’s work; however, his main motivations seem to be that he enjoys the game and the chance it gives him to escape the day-to-day humdrum that most of us live in, even if that escape is sometimes from the arms of the law or blades and guns.

Always in search of an angle, Curly goes through an episodic series of adventures that lead him from one continent to the next. Note, however, that The Last Match is not an “international thriller” as Hard Case Crime has advertised it–one of the benefits of modeling the line after Gold Medal and other vintage paperback publishers is that some embellishment is standard operating procedure. Rather, it’s simply the story of a grifter who moves around a lot.

It’s not hard to see why The Last Match couldn’t find a publisher during author David Dodge’s lifetime (this edition is the first), but it’s a pity it didn’t. Rather than obscurity, it needed an editor–I don’t mean a posthumous editor who is limited in his options, but an editor to work with Dodge as a partner in tightening up the book. It’s too wordy in spots, at least one-fourth longer than it needs to be, and some of Curly’s exploits could easily have been shortened or even excised entirely. The Last Match needed a steady hand to encourage some push-more-here, drop-things-here, and it’s a shame that didn’t happen.

Despite its flaws, The Last Match is a worthy read. Even the more pointless episodes are generally enjoyable, and despite a narrative that’s every bit as rambling as its protagonist, the book is eventually brought to a quite satisfying conclusion. An imperfect but entertaining novel, and a worthy discovery that fans of David Dodge’s other works (which include To Catch a Thief and Plunder of the Sun) will want to check out.