'm in that happy after-vacation state where I have recovered both from post-travel disorientation and from the giddy panic over which book to read from among the many I bought or otherwise acquired at Bouchercon and after.
This year's first post-Bouchercon reading, Donald Hamilton
's 1955 novel Line of Fire
, is an adventure story, a love story, a mob story, a political story, a revenge tale, and a buddy story at the same time, with a fair amount of dry, dry wit.
I'm still a novice when it comes to mid-twentieth-century paperback originals, but I'm guessing there may have been a school of writers back then who wrote crime/adventure stories narrated in a deadpan style without, however, going over the edge into comic crime. Hamilton did so in Line of Fire,
and Richard Powell did it in Say It With Bullets
, republished a few years ago by Hard Case Crime.
Line of Fire
is a beautiful piece of storytelling, its central conflicts laid out early, but their origins revealed only gradually. Another writer may have foamed and salivated over those origins and turned the protagonist, a gunsmith named Paul Nyquist, into a bloodthirsty killer. Hamilton makes of Nyquist a amiable, if serious sort who shoots only when he has to, and not always for reasons the reader might expect.
The novel is driven to an unusual extent by the revelations alluded to above, so I'll shut up on the subject of plot, for fear of introducing spoilers. The novel's low-key wit that manages always to remain hard-boiled as jell. is easier to discuss, and there's plenty of it. Here are some examples:
"There were a couple of jerks in the outer office. There were always a couple of jerks in the outer office."
"It was a good face except for the mouth ... under other circumstances I suppose I'd have had no complaints about the mouth, either. The weakness it betrayed--the slight, moist fullness to the lower lip that any man would recognize--was not, I was aware, considered a handicap in the circles in which she moved. It was all in the point of view."
This, as Nyquist enumerated the types one is likely to find at a hunting lodge: "There'll be the get-away-form-it-all boys who simply want to commune with nature for a couple of weeks each year--I don't know why this always involved leaving the razor at home."
"Being surprised at Marge is always a waste of time"
Read Bill Crider's review of Line of Fire
. Read John Fraser's "Writer at Work: Donald Hamilton" at http://www.jottings.ca/john/thriller_writ1.html
and a shorter piece at http://www.jottings.ca/john/thriller_quik1.html#DonaldHamilton
© Peter Rozovsky 2014
Labels: Bill Crider, Donald Hamilton, Hard Case Crime, paperback originals, Richard Powell