Sunday, September 21, 2014

Book Review: Lionel White, The Snatchers (1953)

Beware . . . spoilers of the ending ensue. Before I began Lionel White’s debut novel, I had two expectations: I expected a successful kidnapping, and I expected a gratuitous rape. I expected the rape because I once read an interview with Charles Ardai in which he explained that Hard Case Crime has not reprinted any Lionel White because his novels tend to feature rapes that (in Ardai’s estimation) are included to thrill male readers. Does such a rape occur in The Snatchers? Yes. But I was reading the novel for the story of the kidnapping. White is an important figure in the history of noirboiled as a pioneer of the criminal procedural; you can draw a direct line from White’s work to Donald E. Westlake’s Parker novels—which brings us to why I was expecting a successful kidnapping. This comes from “True Lies, or True-to-Life?,” an article from the March 24, 1995, Baltimore Sun by Jean Marbella: “[Westlake] had been tickled by a case in which a 1953 mystery novel, The Snatchers by Lionel White, was used as a blueprint for a real-life kidnapping of a baby in France. The kidnapping went exactly as plotted, but the criminals did themselves in, running through the ransom money and blabbing too loudly about their escapade. ‘They ran out of book,’ Mr. Westlake said with a laugh. ‘I always thought they should have taken the money and hired Lionel White to write them a sequel.’” So the kidnappers in The Snatchers must have gotten away with the money too, right? Wrong! The kidnapping in White’s novel goes totally to hell, and the book ends with the criminal gang’s leader dying in a barrage of gunfire. So did Westlake not remember how The Snatchers actually ends? And why would real-life kidnappers use this as their blueprint? I would really love to know! Grade: C

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