Created by Lester Dent
“Patience was a garment Molloy did not wear well.”
–from Lady to Kill
When Doc Savage creator Lester Dent turned to more realistic crime fiction in the mid-forties, he penned two highly regarded hard-boiled novels about CHANCE MOLLOY, the tough-as-nails but hot-headed, impulsive owner of a fledgling South American airline company.
The first, Dead at the Take-Off (1946) was also Dent’s first novel, and it’s a doozy; a satisfyingly complex thriller jammed with credible and well-drawn characters, heading for the inevitable showdown.
Molloy and his brother used to be rich, until a deal to purchase some transport planes from the military after the war fell through, courtesy of a backroom scheming by a corrupt U.S. politician, a Senator Lord who just happens to be the owner of a rival airline, and so sets up a complicated, ruthless scheme to expose Lord, avenge his brother and save his airline from going under.
Traveling incognito, Molloy hops on Flight 14 from New York to Mexico, knowing the senator’s daughter Janet is also on board — she’s part of his plot, whether she knows it or not. But he didn’t count on three of the senator’s men also being on board, not to mention Molloy’s ex, who just happens to be the stewardess, and her ex. Molloy also didn’t count on falling for the senator’s daughter. Or the dead guy on board.
The airplane setting is so well done, it’s surprising Dent didn’t stick with it for the sequel, Lady to Kill, which came out later the same year.
Instead much of the action takes place on a train to New York. While hurtling towards their destination, Molloy, on a business trip, makes the acquaintance of Julie Edwards, a pretty small-town physician’s assistant, on her way to visit her old pal Martha. Just by coincidence, Molloy knows good ol’ Martha—or at least he thinks he does.
But when Molloy shows Julie a picture of Martha, it’s not the same woman. And then the real craziness begins — Julie is assaulted, and she barely avoids being tossed off the moving train. As they come closer and closer to the final stop, Molloy must keep Julie safe, figure out what’s going on with the fake Martha, and sort out his own affairs — the man he was supposed to meet on the train seems to have disappeared, and an important anticipated business deal may be a scam.
It’s a shame Dent didn’t stick with this series. Of course he’s best known for writing the Doc Savage stories, but he also created numerous private eyes and other detectives well worth investigating.
- In the recent digital reprints, the main character’s last name is definitely “Molloy.” But almost every other reference source I can find online or in print tags him as “Malloy.” And Kirkus, in one review, he’s called “Molley.”
- “Dent’s later mystery novels are both extensions of his Black Mask work and reactions against the kind of fiction he has previously written, and they represent the byproducts of the more sophisticated writing he was applying to Doc Savage. These are novels of intrigue and psychological interaction in which realistic characters and emotions dominate.”
— St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers
- “The plot is complex, the characters fascinating, and everybody comes together at the end as they’re all sort of connected and come together in this big climax. It’s really something, so I highly recommend Dead at the Take-Off.”
— Debbi Mack
- “Sustained interest, superior suspense.”
- — Kirkus on Dead at the Take-Off
- “… this is not a Doc Savage novel. It’s the real thing. Point of view shifts frequently, much more frequently than is common in today’s fiction. There are enough character arcs to make your head spin, but Dent handles it them all with ease….an easy blend of smart, hardboiled prose and dry humor.”
— Davy Crockett’s Almanack on Dead at the Take-Off
- “A lean, hard tale… A fairly exact, expert job, too.”
— Kirkus on Lady to Kill
- Dead at the Take-Off (1946; aka “High Stakes”) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Lady to Kill (1946) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
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An ever-growing list of his detective characters.