Ed Lynskey, A Cry in the Night by Whit Masterson. Bantam. 1956. Originally published in hardcover as All Through the Night, Dodd, Mead & Co., 195
When Robert Wade favorably reviewed The Blue Cheer at the San Diego Union-Tribune a few years back, I was on cloud nine. Mr. Wade of the writing tandem Wade Miller is one of my favorite of the classic noir authors. Sadly, it appears the Trib’s book page got axed in these lean days. At any rate, Whit Masterson is another pseudonym used by Mr. Wade and his writing partner Bill Wade who had a fatal heart attack in 1961. They wrote some thirty novels together.
A Cry in the Night is a nifty police procedural concerning the kidnapping of a young lady, Liz Blossom, by a sex fiend, Hill Loftus. The next five hours are unrolled in tense fashion as the police investigation and then pursuit are mounted. Liz’s love interest is Owen Clark, a young Korean War vet now working as an insurance executive where he first met Liz.
A Cry in the Night garnered some critical notice when it was published. The Saturday Review called it an “A-1 thriller.” I found its writing to be first-rate, as would be expected of any Wade Miller project. Right there is enough reason for me to have reread it now. Some of the police methods like using index cards to track the sex fiends and telephone switchboards to call the patrol cars are wonderfully campy today. A few of the plot twists are based on convenience, but then cops do catch lucky breaks in their investigations.
Plus for a novel published in 1955, Hill Loftus comes off as just plain creepy. His mannerisms (leering over the unconscious Liz) and small acts of cruelty (pouring ammonia on a stray dog) make him repulsive. Nothing that graphic or gory is presented. The violence is muted and offstage. Disturbing the reader without using a hammer is a credit to the authors.
I don’t know if A Cry in the Night is available as an e-book. I didn’t see it listed on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. The online used booksellers or brick-and-mortar bookstores might be your best bet. I bought my copy for $3.50 from a used bookstore.
A Cry in the Night (1956) was also made into a B-film noir. Seventeen-year-old Natalie Wood, fresh off the popular Rebel Without a Cause, was cast as Liz Blossom and Raymond Burr played her abductor, ironic since Burr was gay. Edmund O’Brien played her father, the police lieutenant heading the investigation. Whit Masterson took the co-credit for the screenplay writer. I’ve never seen this film noir. The movie reviews indicate it has a dated feel and resorts to a didactic message given on wild, reckless youth. This came on the cusp of the free-loving, acid-dropping sixties.
Ed Lynskey’s new crime novels presently on sale include the hard-boiled LAKE CHARLES and the soft-boiled QUIET ANCHORAGE.
Ed Gorman's fun anthology (with Dave Zeltserman) is getting the treatment this week on SPINETINGER, You can find him here.
Lemons Never Lie, Donald Westlake
There are so many twists, turns, starts and stops in Lemons Never Lie by Donald E. Westlake as Richard Stark that the novel becomes a kind of crime picaresque filled with mugs, thugs, killers, victims and Parker's redoutable thespian friend, Alan Grofiled. There's also a lot of notably brutal violence.
The book begins with Grofield visiting Vegas to partake of a robbery that will give him the money to survive one more season in his summer theater. Grofield, in case you didn't know, is a "purist" when it comes to acting, his chosen profession. No movies or television for him. Stage only. But it takes his other profession, robbery, to support his theater. Only his long-supportive wife understands how hard he works at both careers.
A man named Myers has set up a robbery plan and has called in amateurs to help him. With the exception of a man named Caithcart and a dangerous man named Dan Leach, the group is a zero. As is Myers. Now Myers, who speaks with a boarding school accent, is one of the great villains in Westlake's world. He is a true sociopathic murderer; a serial killer of a kind. Grofield and Leach decide against working with him.
This is the set-up. There's an early twist that lets us know just how nasty Myers is. And then the various adventures start. Grofield resembles his friend (and fellow robber) Parker only occasionally. For instance, he loves chit-chat, feels sorry even for a guy who tries to kill him and lets another live that (as reader) you know should be killed on the spot, slowly and joyously.
There's also a lot of witty humor. Grofield gets into the damnedest conversations with people. Once in a while you may even forget you're reading a crime novel. Westlake has a great time riffing on all the cliche exchanges you read in most crime fiction. At a couple of point Grofield starts sounding like a TV shrink.
Lemons Never Lie is Westlake at his very best. While there's a screwball comedy-feel to some of the misadventures, the unrelenting violence reminds readers that the Richard Stark is the master of the hardboiled. The masterful plotting, the wry way the genre cliches are turned inside out, and the earnestness and humanity of Alan Grofield make this a pleasure from page one to the unexpected ending.
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang