Saturday, January 23, 2010

Book Review: Peter Rabe, Agreement to Kill (1957)

As I was reading Agreement to Kill, my first Peter Rabe novel, Rabe's prose kept reminding me of Joseph Conrad (né Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski), the Polish-born British novelist who was not fluent in English until adulthood. Though stylistically very different, Rabe and Conrad both write with a self-confident awkwardness: While their styles are effective, neither writer seems entirely comfortable with the English language. Once I had finished Agreement to Kill, I discovered (to my surprise, I admit!) that this analogy is exactly right: Like Conrad, Peter Rabe (né Peter Rabinowitsch) was not a native English speaker, having fled Nazi Germany to the United States as a teenager in 1938. Agreement to Kill is an oddly memorable book whose strangeness is actually complemented by the sometime awkwardness of Rabe's writing. The plot reminded me a bit of Gil Brewer's A Killer Is Loose, in which an ordinary man is trying to escape the forced companionship of a psychopathic killer. In Agreement to Kill, though, our ordinary guy (Jake Spinner) is befriending a professional killer (Loma) rather than fleeing him. Jake is tired of being an ordinary guy--which for him has come to mean being a sucker and a loser--and he wants Loma to introduce him to the other side of the law. Available in a reprint two-fer from Stark House Press. Grade: B+

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