Saturday, April 11, 2009

Book Review: Bruno Fischer, Fools Walk In (1951)

Generally, noir plots are not particularly believable, so the noir writer must be skillful enough either to make you believe in spite of it all or to make you not care whether you believe in the first place. (Jim Thompson specializes in the former; Cornell Woolrich specializes in the latter.) This time, Bruno Fischer did not quite succeed in making me believe. Fools Walk In is an example of transgressive noir, the subgenre in which the protagonist, presumably someone not much different from the reader, crosses over to the noir side. Usually the protagonist is driven by financial temptation, but in Fools Walk In, Larry Knight is motivated by the simple desire to escape his miserably unexciting life.

When the novel begins, Larry is driving home to New York from Kentucky, where he has been visiting his brother, George. Larry lives with his sister--a shrill, self-pitying, dominating old maid--and he had hoped to convince George to take her. Of course, he had no such luck. Add to this the fact that Larry is toiling in the world's most pathetic job--he's a high school English teacher, for God's sake!--and he is ripe to transgress when he picks up a gangster's moll who is on the run with $20,000. Larry soon finds himself in hiding with gangsters of the sort who talk earnestly about "capers," and, for a high school English teacher, he proves to be unaccountably attractive to gangster women. If only all English teachers had such latent powers! Grade: C

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