As a storyteller, Robert Silverberg is primarily recognized for science fiction (Nightwings, The World Inside, the Majipoor novels, many more), but like most hard-working freelancers, the writer went through a period when the publishing options in his favored genre were slim. At the end of the fifties, when a distribution crisis put a lot of s-f mags on the verge of extinction, young Silverberg aimed his pen at other writers’ markets under a variety of pseudonyms — soft-core erotica, historicals and crime fiction, primarily — that kept him busy until the s-f market re-emerged. Among these was a hard-boiled pulpish novel about a government agent pursuing counterfeiters in Philadelphia. Initially appearing in the November 1962 issue of a crime mag entitled, Trapped, Blood on the Mink is receiving its first book publication fifty years later as a part of the Hard Case Crime series.
Those who know Silverberg from such elaborate science-fantasy constructions as Lord Valentine’s Castle may be taken aback by the young journeyman’s work here: Mink is leanly written pulp closer to the series character fiction of writers like Lester Dent — with more than a trace of Mickey Spillane tossed into the mix. Silverberg’s hero, who we only know as “Nick” (in homage to Nick Carter, perhaps?) is a hard-bitten undercover man who specializes in convincingly impersonating thugs and infiltrating gangs. In Philly, he pretends to be a West Coast gangster named Vic Lowney to strike up with a deal with the “Mr. Right of the queer-pushers,” counterfeiter Henry Klaus.
Klaus is holding a Hungarian refugee named Szekely for his counterfeiting skills, while Szekely’s strong-willed daughter looks to our hero to rescue her papa from the gangster’s clutches. Complicating matters are Klaus’ shapely moll Carol, who cozies up to “Vic/Nick” so he will help take down her crime boss lover — along with some competitors looking to horn in on the lucrative counterfeiting racket. Our hero struggles to keep his false identity intact amidst multiple double-crosses and gunfights — and, yes, somebody’s mink does get bloody. Story highlight is a shoot-out on the empty late night streets in the City of Brotherly Love.
To fill out the slim pulp-sized novel, the paperback appends two crime short stories from the same era, also featuring gangsters and counterfeiters. The first, “Dangerous Doll,” is a somewhat stolid yarn with a dull-witted protagonist and a flatly executed twist, though the second, “One Night of Violence,” proves crisper. The story of a traveling salesman who inadvertently gets caught between two feuding Chicago mobsters in the wilds of Wisconsin, “One Night” captures our innocent hero’s predicament convincingly and suspensefully.
Silverberg’s fictions hold up as period genre work, though I suspect most of his fans will consider this reissue an unnecessary distraction from the stuff that matters: namely, the s-f work that he began writing after this economically driven detour into other genres. Crime fic aficionados should get a kick out of Mink, though: another diverting piece of pulp archeology from the gang at Hard Case Crime.