Sunday, October 13, 2013

John Lange Revisited

Odds On (1966) Scratch One (1967) Easy Go (1968) Zero Cool (1969) The Venom Business (1970) Drug of Choice (1970) Grave Descend (1970) Binary (1972) Michael Crichton writing as John Lange (Hard Case Crime)

Much has been written, filmed and said about the grind of medical school over the years; it is hard work and hours of study to a medical degree. Now kick things up a notch and add to that backdrop that you are studying at Harvard Medical School, one of the world’s premier medical education facilities. It was in that setting that an honors student at the school created the secret pen-name “John Lange” and began authoring a series of eight top-notch entertaining thrillers.

The legend of “Lange” grew to epic proportions, when he suddenly vanished from the literary scene. Collectors began the pursuit of out of print copies found in nooks and crannies of second hand stores, paying premium prices, never knowing the author was alive and well and cranking out bestsellers under his given name; Michael Crichton.

Crichton, the medical school student in question, went on to author some of the best loved books of his generation and create the hit television series ER and an even larger legion of fans. Before his untimely passing in 2008, Crichton began a project with the custom publishing imprint Hard Case Crime to resurrect the Lange books for a new generation. Crichton began the process by re-editing a couple of the books, going as far as adding new chapters to one with an eye toward eventually releasing the entire Lange series.

While that process was slowed by the author’s death, Hard Case has now followed through by delivery all eight books in a lovingly restored set featuring updated cover art painted by Gregory Manchess and Glen Orbik. The covers, clearly different from the original cover art, feature the distinctive Hard Case Crime, hardboiled look.

While the Lange books are different from his later works, they clearly foreshadow what Crichton would perfect with his elegant style thrillers. Brilliant is a word that is often misplaced and overused, but is clearly fitting in the case of Crichton/Lange. He is a masters of drawing memorable characters, delving into interesting settings and making complexities of science within the reach of the average reader.

While I vividly remember the thrill of finding a crisp clean original copy of Binary for a reasonable price, in a dusty used book shop, having Lange/Crichton in easy reach with this beautiful set is a win for long time and soon to be fans.


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