TRASHY TUESDAY: GOLD BAIT by Walter J. Sheldon (Fawcett, 1973)
This 1973 ‘treasure hunt’ thriller sports a terrific Robert McGinnis cover.
Gold Bait is typical of its type and revolves the recovery of over five million dollars in gold lying off the coast of Korea. The gold is in a sunken trawler which sank in 1952, along with a high ranking North Korean official who was fleeing the country with the gold. Now Max Haggard, a wheeler and dealer with an inside story on the gold, wants former US Special Forces Colonel James Corby to help him and his motley crew recover it. Corby had been on board the South Korean Patrol Boat which sunk the trawler back in 1952, without knowing what it contained. Although suspicious of Haggard, Corby agrees to be part of the salvage operation and heads to Korea. From that point the story proceeds along familiar lines culminating in betrayal, bloodshed and a particularly brutal conclusion. There is also a neat minor twist at the end.
Sheldon uses an interesting device to tell his story. The basic premise is that the CIA are thinking about recruiting Corby and the book is a series of documents attached to the recruitment report. The bulk of the documents are extracts from Corby’s supposed Journal, which carries most of the story telling. There are also letters, newspaper reports, radio intercepts and extracts from the diary of one of the other participants. It sort of works, if you can believe that Corby’s journal is that well written, but seems a cumbersome and unnecessary way of telling the story.
In all it is an engaging tale. The writing is adequate, and the plot unfolds smoothly. Corby comes across as a typical ‘men’s adventure’ hero from that period and he reminded me of the central characters from the early Jack Higgins novels, such as Night Judgement At Sinos. Described by the CIA recruiter as being “libertinous (sic), venal, tolerant of narcotics, licentious, and given to violence”, Corby seems to be the stock standard adventure hero. The ending is tough and, in part, involves a pack rape scene, which is distasteful, illogical and unnecessary. There are also several pages of the villain explaining to Corby the machinations behind what has happened.
Gold Bait appears to be the first in a proposed series of Corby books, but I am not sure whether more followed or not. I am also not familiar with Sheldon’s other books, although he seems to have been quite prolific and wide ranging in his writing endeavours, including science fiction. He also wrote a book on the Korean War, which would have provided the basis for the interesting background to the salvage operation.
In many ways the best thing about the book is the Robert McGinnis cover. It features another great, sexy McGinnis woman, this time a blonde in a revealing wet suit, holding a vicious looking speargun and flippers. In the background she is being watched by three shady looking guys who appear to be in the pilothouse of a boat. It is very well done and, in many ways, captures the feel of lots of paperback adventure novels of the early 1970s.
In all, it is a solid read and well worth looking out for, if only for the cover!