This lovely item has been sitting on my shelf for a very long time, begging to be read….
“The Man of Many Colours” is by David Braza, whose actual identity is unconfirmed. This 126-page digest-paperback was published by Modern Fiction Ltd. around September 1953 and is a “Detective Spy Thriller.” Perhaps what arrested my eye was the Ray Theobald artwork. It’s hard to ignore the scantily clad female in the backdrop.
The book opens with the police force chasing a man whom is jumping across rooftops. Eventually, the narrating policeman apparently shoots once and kills the man. The whole scenario feels wrong to him and the spends the rest of the novel moping around trying to learn more about the man, the circumstances, and just what building and offices the apparent cat burglar was either trying to break into, or, had succeeded in entering. Anyone reading realizes that the latter is the case, he isn’t convinced. He’s more focused on the fact that he actually had to draw his sidearm and kill a man.
Unfortunately for him, and the reader, our would-be hero is a mutt of a character, whom takes a backseat to another character, halfway through the novel. He is eventually disclosed as an M.I.5 operative, and while he requires the active assistance of the local police force, and in fact requests this specific officer to continue his investigative work, he himself relinquishes very little in the way of facts until too late.
They are time and again brought back to a circus, to the freak show circuit. The center attraction (for them) is a seemingly deaf-and-dumb behemoth, whom is colorfully tattooed from head to toe (hence the title of the book). And yes, if you are into INK (that’s “tattooing” for those in the know, among other choice words) then perhaps this book will have a market for tattoo collectors. This man is eventually kidnapped and brought to the docks to be shipped overseas.
Racing against time, they board several unscrupulously run seafaring vessels before lucking onto a cabin containing the “freak” and the person in charge of smuggling him out of the country. The freak ends up dying, having been giving a massive drug overdose. Only thing is, the freak is not the right man. And the smuggler was tricked, not aware of the duplicity.
Combining all known details, we are led on a wild chase that leads to an anti-war movement convention and Communists, which pretty much explains the spy thriller elements of this novel. The ensuing chase(s) lead them to the man behind the whole entire charade…for one man, a mole, has been hindering their every step. Someone privy to police operations. Turns out the Chief Constable was the head conspirator! On arriving at his estate, they find that he has committed suicide. Rather than print this damning evidence, M.I.5 buries the incident as a heart attack case.
But, where is the freak?
Without any due explanation, it is deduced that he never was smuggled, but locked away somewhere on the circus grounds. They investigate at night, and crawling through the tunnels of a ride that normally is flooded by day, they find a side door. Inside is the vixen on the front cover (no, she’s not skimpily clad) wielding a gun. They take her apart, but, the freak is released, and in his insanity, he batters them aside and escapes. Chasing after him, the tunnel is suddenly flooded with water by the tattooed man. A light in one hand, gun in the other, the police detective inches forward in the inky, watery gloom, when suddenly a boulder is hurled at him (see the front cover). Thankfully, the boulder is nothing more than a painted styrofoam prop, and while it stuns him and forces him to drop the gun, he’s not seriously injured.
With the assistance of the M.I.5 operative, they subdue the mentally deranged lunatic (for aren’t nearly all freak show participants portrayed as abnormal in old literature?) and all Communist parties are arrested.
And the girl? She was put on trial and convicted. Turns out our policeman didn’t kill the rooftop hopper. She did.
The tattooed behemoth? He died months later, having mysteriously drowned in a river.
The novel is spotted with holes and inconsistencies, but, my overall verdict is that the novel was captivating enough a read to warrant a second look for anyone else interested in tackling the task. Or, you might just wish to acquire it for the cover art…like most collectors.