Saturday, 7 March 2009

Gerald Hammond: The Dirty Dollar (2002)

Edition: Severn House, 2002

Despite earning an engineering degree, Jill Allbright is unable to get a job in the chauvinistic oil industry, except as a cleaner in the offices of an Aberdeen subsidiary of a US oil firm. While working in the executive offices in the middle of the night, Jill answers an insistently ringing phone, and is told by the billionaire owner of the company in Florida that she will need to sort out a crisis: a strike at a depot has been called to coincide with a major delivery of pipes. She organises storage with local farms, and as a reward is taken on as a troubleshooter. The British division of the company isn't doing as well as the Americans think it should be, and they want to know if this is incompetence, or sabotage by a rival firm. So Jill is thrust into a difficult and potentially dangerous role, but with the added problems of being a woman in a man's world, being viewed as a spy for the company's owners and a symbol of a lack of trust toward the local management - not to mention antagonism from those who might be shown to be incompetent or corrupt.

The Dirty Dollar is a quirky, enjoyable thriller (even if it could have a more apposite title without too much difficulty). It is well written, though without pretensions to being anything other than what it is. Even though I like the more complex literary novels too, sometimes I just want something to relax with. Jill is a good central character, and is almost one of those onmi-competent heroes found in old fashioned thrillers, except for the diffidence brought on by the rejection she has experienced from chauvinistic oilmen.

At the same time, Hammond has produced something a little different from the well worn (even if less used in recent years) formula of a heroic thriller. The tone may seem to come straight from the thirties, but having a woman as a hero makes The Dirty Dollar very different from the thrillers of that time - even Patricia Holm was just a sidekick to the Saint. Even today, it is still a little unusual in a thriller. Hammond's writing has a light, insouciant touch, to me reminiscent of Leslie Charteris at his best. This is also evident in the other novel by the author that I have read, Grail for Sale. So it is clearly not an isolated example, and suggests that others from his dozens of novels would provide similar enjoyment.

I would rate The DIrty Dollar at 8/10.

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