Plodding, structurally inept debut novel by Jim Thompson. He gives expository flashbacks right up until the end of the narrative, as if sooner or later the plot will finally get going. But it never does. I suspect that part of Thompson's problem may have been the autobiographical nature of the work--he seems not to have enough distance from his material to figure out anything interesting to do with it. But he would solve this problem in later books.Grade: D
Disclaimer: I have seen the movie version of Detour three times before now having read the book, so my reaction to the book is unavoidably colored by my familiarity with the movie (which I love).
Detour the novel alternates between two narrators: Alexander Roth, a jazz musician, and Sue Harvey, a jazz singer. Alex and Sue lived together in New York before Sue left for California to pursue her dreams of Hollywood. Sue's share of the narrative tells of her life in California without Alex. Alex's narrative tells what happens when he tries to hitchhike to California to rejoin Sue. Detour the movie (scripted by Martin M. Goldsmith, who also wrote the novel) tells only Alex's story. In the movie, Sue is already in California, and we never learn anything of what has become of her. In this way, the novel is richer than the movie. Not only do we learn of Sue's fate, but her story and Alex's story enrich each other--his story is made more complex and more powerful by our knowledge of her story, and vice versa.
Unfortunately, there has not been a decent reprint of Detour since the hardback first edition of 1939. Recent paperbacks by O'Bryan House and Blackmask.com are textual disasters. Both seem to have been produced by ten-year-olds who were given OCR software for Christmas. Readers beware! Grade: A
Perhaps the most superficial pulp-noir of any reputation that I have read. Much liquor is consumed, many sexual advances are made, and many lives are endangered, but never is there so much as a peek into anyone's soul. A quick, empty read.Grade: D-
Some Must Die is a quasi-western, a mishmash of 13 French Street, Hell's Our Destination, and Bret Harte. It's also the first Gil Brewer novel where his prose style fails him. Paragraphs are short and disjointed; sentences are overwritten and sometimes nearly incomprehensible. Consider this sentence/paragraph from page 133:
In the fogged-up, thudding silence of the bedroom, he sensed Horn falling back and saw him trying to ward off a series of steady blows to the body and head, aimed and quietly careful in the blind cold mist of the moment.
Oh, my. This book took me longer to read than any of Brewer's previous novels simply because I found myself reading sentences like this one over and over again. In the end, I came up with two possible explanations for what went wrong with this book: (1) Brewer is drinking too much and writing too fast. Some Must Die was the seventh Brewer novel published in a three-year span, appearing only three months after his masterpiece A Killer Is Loose. Brewer simply can't keep up the pace and the quality, too. (2) Brewer is working hard to vary his formula. Thus, rather than his usual settings in contemporary Florida, his gives us nineteenth-century Wyoming. And rather than his usual straight-forward prose style, he pushes himself stylistically. Unfortunately, he pushes too hard. Grade: D
A swamp-noir version of Bleak House: Simon Lewt has had his life ruined by the dangling promise of riches. Six years ago, he helped a thief to hide a box of cash in the swamp--though Simon does not know exactly where the money is. Ever since, Simon has been waiting for the day that the man returns for the money. Ever since, Simon has been planning to kill that man and take the money. Ever since, Simon has been slowly losing his mind. . . .Grade: A-
This is a top-notch Charles Williams novel puffed up (or down, depending on your point of view) into a so-so Charles Williams novel. I would be curious to know which came first: Williams' production of a manuscript 50% longer than his first two books or his assignment to produce a Gold Medal Giant. My suspicion is the latter. Unfortunately, given an extra 75-100 pages to work with, Williams does not find much to do with the additional space. His obvious choices would have been to build a more intricate plot (how about doing something with the narrator's wife, who wanders off stage at the beginning of the book and never reappears?) or to create more nuanced characters (how about fuller backstories for the major players so that their behavior is more believable?). Instead, the plot dawdles more, and the narrator is prone to long, earnest monologues. A squandered opportunity. Grade: C-
A: Excellent. I intend to read it again. B: Good. I might read it again. C: So-so. I didn't mind reading it. D: Bad. I resented reading it. F: Atrocious. I finished it only because I'm compulsive that way.