Monday, July 20, 2020

The Captain Must Die by Robert Colby

In Robert Colby’s 1959 novel, The Captain Must Die, three men released from prison after 12 years arrive in Louisville, Kentucky. They are there to find, rob and kill the man they blame for sending them up – their former Army commander.

During World War II, three weary combat veterans were given leave to go home, visit family and rest up before being sent back into the war. But, arriving in the states, their leaves were cancelled.

Feeling screwed over, the three decided they deserved their leaves and were going to take them, whether the Army liked it or not. They would come back later and rejoin their outfit.

Caught at the train station in civilian clothes, they were arrested. Their by-the-book commander pressed charges of desertion against them. The three soldiers were sentenced to life, but an amnesty, released them early.

Now they were out and hunting for the captain who had since become a successful and wealthy businessman.

Using flashbacks and multiple points of view, Colby developed the stories of the three men, the captain and the captain’s wife. He skillfully brought out the reasons for their actions. In some cases, a reader's opinion may shift. A villain is not so villainous. A hero - or an anti-hero, in this case - is not someone to root for. Colby does it all in a blunt, but smooth, readable style.

In 2011, Ed Gorman wrote, The Captain Must Die is “one of the great overlooked Gold Medal novels ... If you want a feel for the real Fifties in the form of a grim caper novel, this is your book.”

Later, Cullen Gallagher wrote, “Colby mixes a superb suspense story with a sophisticated structure that, despite its complexity, reads smoothly and compulsively.”

Their reviews are here and here, and there is a tribute piece to Robert Colby (1920-2004) here.


  1. I might have to see how expensive this is to track down.

    1. I bought the Kindle version for $3.99. I think you can get a copy on Amazon UK.