3 out of 5
A slim and tight bit o’ pulp, Robert Silverberg’s Blood on the Mink trades in a lot of cliche, but moves at such a quick clip – less than 180 pages! – and is so upfront about its double- and triple-crosses that it turns the cliche into entertaining bravado.
The frankness starts from the top: our narrator has some type of periphery role in the cops as an undercover agent, and he’s in on the sting, bringing down a negotiator in a queer currency operation – the police nabbing the latter while he’s transferring flights and subbing in our looks-enough-alike impersonator protagonist for the role, sending him out to “finish” a deal by hopefully bringing down the whole thing. I imagine other authors would be tempted to bury this lede a bit further, but Silverberg is right out with it, and that sets the tone: things are kept on the up and up (for the reader) throughout, making for a breezy fun time as things inevitably go wrong with the setup and our lead has to take some chances on improvising. We also skip through a lot of genre indulgence by sticking to the job: “Mister Lowney” – the role he takes on – is a wise guy, but he can’t afford to get too mixed up in dames or trouble beyond what would be convincing for his role. We still get a lamentable “she was made for sex” type line – one of my least favorite, oft-repeated phrases in these things – but Blood on the Mink doesn’t dive into momentary erotica as these things sometimes do; there’s a limited timetable to pull the deal off, and each chapter ticks by advancing us specifically toward that goal.
There’s a lot of fun to be had the way Silverberg stacks up complexities right away – that it’s not just one mob type “Lowney” has to deal with, but suddenly three, not to mention two women in the mix with their own plans – but this is really meant to be a pretty disposable novel, and so it never really ratchets the tension on any of that up too much. Get some action in there, bing-bang, get the double-cross in there, bang-boom; even the scene that gives the book its title is a fleeting moment. As such, it’s definitely a fun read, but not necessarily one with the type of personality a Westlake or Block might bring to things.
The HCC reprint of this also includes two short magazine-pulp reprints from Silverberg to bump the page count over 200. One of these also features money counterfeiting, and a somewhat obvious twist, but it’s just as efficient in execution as the main story; the other is a bit more interesting, taking its time to work through an innocent’s involvement in a gang shootout, and offers a greater sense of desperation with the lead – and thus tension – than is necessarily apparent in the other stories.
Silverberg also has an afterword to Blood on the Mink which kinda solidifies it as a simple but solid tale.