Book Review: Michael Crichton’s John Lange Series ‘Hard Case Crime’

If you’re anything like me you are a huge fan of Michael Crichton; I own and have read every book he wrote. When he died in 2008 it was a sad day for fans of his unique style of writing who would never get to look forward to his writings. Sadly, he is still gone but Hard Case Crime has released a series of paperback books that most of us never even knew about. Between 1966 and 1972 young Michael Crichton was a medical student trying to get through school. In order to earn money during his school years he turned his passion for writing into his job and wrote a series of pulp-style crime thrillers under the name John Lange (at the time he didn’t want the other students and doctors to know he had this other vocation). Hard Case Crime has released eight of these rarely seen books and I had a chance to read four of them. Here are brief descriptions of them.

Odds On: Three professional criminals have the perfect plan to rob a super luxurious, and isolated, hotel in Spain. A computer program has worked out every possible variable but there are some that they did not count on.

The Venom Business: An expert smuggler, who uses snake his expertise in snakes and venom research to smuggle rare artifacts, is hired by an old friend as a bodyguard. Turns out he may need a body guard of his own.

Zero Cool: A doctor on vacation in Spain finds himself pulled into circumstances involving two rival sides after an artifact; none of this is known to him as he is going through it until it’s almost too late.

Drug of Choice: A young doctor gets pulled into a pharmaceutical company’s web to create a drug that would give them ultimate power over the unknowing public.

Reading these books was an absolute blast and it was really interesting to see Crichton learning writing skills that would serve him later. It would be unfair to criticize these books for their simplicity; as a style pulp books are supposed to be relatively simple and quick reads. In reality, Crichton has actually taken a genre and was able to put his own mark on it. The books have a straightforward story and make for a quick read (you could easily sit down and read one in a couple of hours) but still have the Crichton voice. This is mostly seen in the use of scientific jargon, computers, and in many cases knowledge Crichton no doubt got from his medical training (two of the books I read feature young, naïve doctors thrown into a mystery). If you read the books in order you can watch this future writer progress in skill, it’s really quite interesting. You can see where he had inklings of ideas that would be used later in his writing career; characters that love statistics and use mathematics to make their points and in one book there is a character that uses an attack animal whose vision is based on movement (this should sound familiar to fans of Crichton’s work).

Overall, the only thing I can really say is that these books are a fun read. They would appeal to fans of both Michael Crichton or fans of fast-paced thrillers alike. Written in the 60’s, the stories don’t feel dated and even technological and medical references don’t seem out of place. The book covers have been given a makeover with a retro, pulpy feel that adds a nice touch to the collection. I am really glad that these books were released; it was an unexpected surprise to discover these little gems. I had so much fun ready these four books that I know I am definitely going to buy the other four that have been released.

All of these books are available from Hard Case Books at or your local bookstore.


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