The perfect engravings of Blood on the Mink
Blood on the Mink was originally written over 50 years ago, when it appeared, under the pseudonym Ray McKensie, in the final issue of Trapped Detective Story Magazine, one of the last remaining pulp magazines.
The original published title was Too Much Blood on the Mink.
When the magazine went under, so too did the few remaining copies and the rights to print more, meaning that the book hasn’t been seen in print in over half a century, and if any copies remain of that last issue of Trapped, I would be very surprised.
In a practical sense, this means that Robert Silverberg's Blood on the Mink is seeing the light of day for the first time, like a time-capsule of fiction.
It’s not the kind of story that today’s Silverberg fans might expect of him. First of all, there are no fantastic elements in the book at all; it’s a straight-up crime drama with a hard-boiled voice.
Many of the conventions the story follows would be more than a little anachronistic in a story published today, but Silverberg treated them well, even in a time when it was typical to give the audience stories barely worth the pulpy paper they were written on.
The story is about a government agent working for the US Treasury Department. We don’t get his name until the very end, so most of the time, we only know him as Vic Lowney, which is the name of the criminal he’s impersonating. He’s gone undercover in the guise of an existing criminal to infiltrate and organization which is churning out the best forged bills - frequently called ‘queers’ by the criminals in the story - that the treasury has ever seen.
His mission is continues to become more complicated as additional elements are thrown his way. First, the engravers daughter asks for his help to rescue her father from the gang, then the bosses girl falls for him, and finally one of the real Lowney’s contacts from California shows up, and discovers his disguise.
Our hero has to think fast, and come up with a plan to get everything done, and take out all the bad guys, while keeping the innocents safe.
Occasionally, the narrator - it’s all told first person from the protagonist’s point of view - hides some important information from the audience, something that would typically get panned by critics today, but it doesn’t ruin the story, which is mostly fun for its action.
Silverberg manages to build up the characters flawlessly, and present us with a crime story which feels more real than many of today’s melodramatic and unrealistically technologized crime stories. The character relies on his wits and, to a lesser extent, his gun to get out of a tough spot, which from the outset is well-built to feel impossibly trapping. Of all the things I was expecting - a hard-boiled narrator, a bunch of gun-play, an antiquated view of women, etc. - one of them was not that I would be genuinely thrilled by the story. Once I got into it, I had to keep it in my hands until I hit the conclusion. I needed to know how the hero would get out of the situation, even if the hero himself was a bit hard to identify with.
The book also contains an afterward by Silverberg, in which the now elderly writer of some of the classics of genre fiction looks back at the stories of his youth, and the process that brought this novel to print. There are two additional shorter stories, which follow the same vein as Blood on the Mink, and were written by Silverberg in the same era.
Overall, it’s an interesting book for any fan of Silverberg who might like to see where his career began, but it’s also a great hard-boiled crime novel in its own right.