NIGHT OF THE HORNS (1958) and CRY WOLFRAM (1959) by Douglas Sanderson

Sanderson_Horns-Wolfram_starkThis volume, reprinting a pair of hitherto hard-to-find mysteries by Douglas Sanderson (1920-2002), comes from those very nice people at Stark House Press. Both originally appeared under multiple titles and bylines: Night of the Horns was known as Murder Comes Calling by ‘Malcolm Douglas’ in the US while Cry Wolfram was printed in France as Mark it for Murder by ‘Martin Brett.’ Both are action-packed thrillers narrated by an innocent man accused of murder and caught between two women.

I submit this review for Bev’s Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge; and Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme over at her fab Pattinase blog.

“I going to get you any day now for what you done to my bruther. You going to be sorry when I kill you.” – Night of the Horns

Night of the Horns is a suspense novel told at tremendous speed. Bob Race is a West Coast lawyer, an idealist who truly believes in his clients’ innocence and who always goes out on a limb to help them out. It is even said that he left the DA’s office when he could not stomach having to deal with people he didn’t believe. He is madly in love with his wife, Eve (her father is not so keen on him sadly), and is generally liked by friends and colleagues, though many feel he is living in a fool’s paradise, naive to the point of blindness in fact, taking too much on faith with regard to his clients. Even when he starts getting a series of threatening letters he just brushes it off as coming from someone with a grudge who just needs some understanding. He is even helping one of his clients, the callow youth Tony Jordan, by putting him through school having almost adopted him into his family despite Eve’s misgivings.

She said coldly in a faraway voice, “Ruin the bastard.”  – Night of the Horns

Sanderson_Malcolm-Douglas-Murder-Comes-Calling_goldmedalAll this goodwill towards his fellow man of course makes him vulnerable in a Noirish world, and very soon Bob’s life is split apart. One of his clients, Kresnick, proves himself a villain (Bob was warned by wouldnt;t listen) by blackmailing our lawyer into collecting a mysterious briefcase. A few minutes after meeting the gangster it turns out that he employs Ginny, an old girlfriend of Bob’s, who hates his guts for the way their relationship ended. Bob collects the suitcase but is assaulted, left for dead and the case taken. Then Eve goes missing and Bob discovers not only that the gangster kidnapped her as insurance to get his briefcase back, but that she had been having an affair with his downstairs neighbour. Before long he heads to Mexico on the run from cops and gangsters.

“His mouth was open and so was his forehead. It had been excavated by a bullet. He was as dead as a kippered herring.”  – Night of the Horns

This is a zesty novel with plenty of sex and violence, with only the strategic use of ellipses to protect our blushes from some very ripe language too! It’s a good enough yarn, breathlessly told and certainly hurtles to its dynamic finish with a flurry of activity. Having all the action take place in a week keeps the pace tight but certainly strains credulity while the plot does get a bit too convoluted towards the end. But there are lots of pleasure, not least Sanderson’s frequent dipping into British argot (the book includes what must be a very early use in American fiction of the term ‘knackered’) which really did make me smile at its incongruity.

In 1964 the novel was adapted by the BBC for its anthology series Detective, which in an amusing touch had Rupert Davies, in his role as Maigret, introduce the episode. I’m sorry to say I haven’t seen it (reportedly however it is one of the episodes that survives in the archives). Unusually it retained its American setting. Here are the details of the production (for further details on the series, visit the Action TV website and the Radio Times listing at BBC Genome).

The Night of the Horns (BBC One – 25 May 1964)
Writer / Director: Terence Dudley
Producer: David Goddard
Music: Max Harris (score), John Addison (theme music)
Production Designer: John Cooper
Cast: Frank Lieberman (Bob Race), Barbara Shelley (Eve Race), Terence Holland (Jordan), Martin Wyldeck (Sam Alford), Lew Luton (Tony Fontaine), Laurence Dane (Jeff Pastor), Frank Gatliff (Al Kresnick), Ray Roberts (Charlie), David Cargill (Scrine), Jeanne Moody (Virginia Ferrer), Sally Lahee (Mrs Fontaine), Barry Shawzin (Louis), Richard Montez (Jose), Marcella Markham (June), George Little (Ernie), Patrick Whyte (Smollet), Derek Murcott (patrolman).

Craddock said, “You swinish little cunning bastard.”
I said, “Gee, thanks.”
Cry Wolfram

Sanderson-WolframIn case you were wondering, ‘Wolfram’ is another word for Tungsten and it provides the prize /MacGuffin (along with a mysterious photo) in the European adventure, Cry Wolfram. John Molson is an American living in Europe, trying to scrape enough money together to finish his studies at the Sorbonne. He is currently working as a bodyguard / amanuensis to a millionaire named Craddock, an old schemer in failing health who has found religion but is still up to no good, trying to secure mine right through blackmail. John is a bit of an innocent, infatuated with femme fatale Julie Chirac, who apparently has a very scary brother while also drawn to prim and proper Louise, who also works for Craddock. While on a business trip to Spain the old man in murdered with Molson’s knife so he goes on the run from crooked cop Vidal and Craddock’s slippery English associate, Parker. And just when he needs her most, Louise goes  ‘native’ and run off with a bullfighter – yes, this has a much lighter touch than Horns. Chapter 15 has a great sequence set at a gypsy wedding that is really entertaining (and helps set up the deus ex machina at the finale):

“You want to buy a donkey? A very pretty fat strong donkey?”
I kept my eyes closed. I said, “I would have to see it first.”
“Si senor. I shall bring it. Right away.”
“Don’t bother. I’m not really in the market.”
“It is an exquisite donkey.”
“We shall not argue.”
Cry Wolfram

Wolfram, when compared with Horns, offers less in the way of plot perhaps and does suffer from a rather limp climax – but it more than makes up for it in its depiction of life in Spain, which really does give it an extra spark. The rather cynical and jaded ending is also a bit of a surprise, though the emphasis on Hernandez the bull fighter does draw attention to the somewhat lackluster romantic triangle at the core of both novels. In reading these two books one after the other a certain repetitiveness does creep in, and there is that typical 50s ‘femme fatale’ misogyny of the paperback original which really does sting a bit, though none of the characters are especially likeable. Both products of their time, they often thrills and spills in abundance, though maybe reading one right after another does not do them any favours. For a more in-depth review of this one, see what Brian Busby had to say over at his Dusty Bookcase.

This fine edition comes with a brand new overview of the author’s career by Greg Shepard. This is another great double bill from Stark House Press, who supplied the review copy and for which many thanks – it’s a keeper.

Night of the Horns / Cry Wolfram
By Douglas Sanderson
ISBN: 978-1-933586-72-2 (paperback), 262 pages, $20.95
www.starkhousepress.com/

I submit these two reviews for Bev’s 2015 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo – Night of the Horns in the ‘time of day’ category and Cry Wolfram in ‘author I never read before’ category – which incidentally also gives me my first two bingos!

020-Vintage-Sanderson-double

***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

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94 Responses to NIGHT OF THE HORNS (1958) and CRY WOLFRAM (1959) by Douglas Sanderson

  1. Sergio – This certainly sounds like a pair of fast-paced, thrillerish sort of noir stories. It almost seems to have hints of the pulp novel about it. They sound like solid yarns, and that’s great. Very glad that Stark and other publishers are making these less-well-known stories available to a new generation.

    • Thanks Margot – I’ve been told off by Todd mason for occasionally misusing the pulp term – these are, if put in that category, superior examples, with all the usual cavetas!

  2. Colin says:

    Both new to me but I get the impression we’re talking about a fun pair of pulpy tales, and I’m always up for those. Thanks for reviewing this stuff as it would likely fly beneath my radar otherwise.

    • Thanks Colin – not an author I’d encountered before either and it is really grreat that Stark House continue to make them available

      • Colin says:

        Discoveries like this (or perhaps that should be recoveries) always interest me. Pulp material may not be to everybody’s taste but I enjoy it and I think it’s fine to see some of it anyway back in circulation.

        • And I think very useful – there is a tendency to just lump things together in one easy pulp category but clearly it was a lot mor enunaced. Sanderson was a very decent writer and I think an unusual one in his blobe-trotting at the very least.

          • Colin says:

            Well I know nothing of the writer but that’s interesting to hear. Pulp writing has been dismissed, by some, as cheap nasty and disposable while there’s actually some very good stuff out there.

          • I think there was a hell of a lot of junk published in soft covers especially in the 50s and 60s but I would never have the energy to soft through it – so am very pleased that smaller publishers do it for us!

          • Colin says:

            Without question. Every time a better example gets republished it just helps prove how not all of it was dross though.

          • Which is very conforting, I agree – thankk goodness for Stark House, Hard Case Crime, the British Library, Ramble House, Murder Room et al.

          • Todd Mason says:

            And, of course, this wasn’t pulp writing, but paperback writing…which at Gold Medal, at least, was of a higher average quality than even the best pulps…

          • I absolutely pointed this out Todd and mentioned you in dispatches too! Not getting caught out on this ever, ever again 🙂

          • Todd Mason says:

            Well…I’d hate to be seen as solely a scourge…but isn’t it dispiriting how widespread this misconstruction is? (Though I do add the wrinkle above that the Fawcett Gold Medal series of books, at very least, were on average more sophisticated and better written than even the best pulps…even when no less misogynist than the pulps at their worst in that wise (see the culture at large and at least some influence of Spillane)…happily, there were those ranging from John D. MacDonald on over to Ms. “Vin Packer” seeking to remedy that to one degree or another at their imprint…

          • One of the good things about the reprints Todd is that you don;t have to worry about the quality of the paper … 🙂

          • Todd Mason says:

            Well, Fawcett used pretty good paper, actually…never acid-free…

          • Now look chum, it’s either on pulp paper or it isn’t , stop mucking us about 🙂

          • Todd Mason says:

            Um…yes. That was indeed part of my point…this paperback-original fiction not only not published in pulp magazines, but also not on pulp paper…which was Way too brittle on balance for paperback-publishing convenience…big pulp-magazine pages, on the other hand, did OK with it…

          • There is something very appealing about the idea that the very physical state of a published work might in a way fit right in with the content. That is to say, ‘slicks’ should be on glossy paper and genre material felt to be baser should be on rough-hewn and frangible paper. But there you go, real life usually just won’t behave and as often as not will be contrary and just kicks you in the knackers when you least want it to!

  3. Sounds like a good pair — I’ve had my eye on this volume, so I’m glad to hear these two novels are pretty good, if a bit pulpy.

  4. Yvette says:

    I really have a hard time with books in which the characters are unlikeable. I mean, there has to be at least one, preferably two characters I can sink my teeth into – in a nice way of course. 🙂 I’ve just recently finished a book by Patricia Moyes in which none of the characters, including the police inspector solving the crime and his annoying wife, are likeable. What happens then is: I don’t care who killed who or why. I’ve thought about how this happens and I still can’t quite figure it out. Some writers just have the knack. Others have a much harder time. I wonder if it’s that the writer him or herself has to be likable to begin with?

    So I probably won’t be reading these two books, Sergio. But as always I thank you for writing about them (a very enjoyable pair of reviews) and introducing me to yet another writer I’d yet to hear about.

    • Thanks for that Yvette – to a degree it is probably a more realistic depiction so that by having more flawed characters we can identify more and they fit more into the darker ambience are they put into – but yeah, on the whole, a bit of empathy goes a long way!

  5. John says:

    I first learned of all these Canadian thriller and private eye writers from reading Brian Busby’s blog. I don’t think he’d like you saying “very early use in American fiction of the term ‘knackered’” as Sanderson was Canadian which might explain the apparent incongruity of British slang. I hear British accents and slang all the time when I’m visiting Canada — especially in B.C. But you can easily remedy this post by adding North in front of American and then it’ll be more accurate. ;^) I really enjoyed the two books Sanderson wrote as “Martin Brett” – both reprinted by Vehicule Press. I had forgotten that Stark House first reprinted Sanderson’s books back in 2006. I’ve always liked that DJ for CRY WOLFRAM ever since I encountered it in a eBay auction about five years ago and wanted to read the book based solely on the lurid illustration. Glad I’ll be able to buy a copy now. Thanks for this review and letting us know both books are back in print.

    • Thanks John, though Sanderson was most definitely a Brit, and you can certainly tell in the writing. But yes, he lived in Canada for a while and set some of his books there. But this book was written for a (North) American publisher, so what the hell, I stand by my statement!!! How many people Stateside would even know what ‘knackered’ even means, though? But seriously folks … do you think this might be the earliest use in print on your side of the border of the term? There must be a way to find out – and we should be told! Thanks for stopping by chum 🙂

      • John says:

        Oh cripes! (as my father used to say) Did I do it again? I give up. :^( Here’s my promise: I will no longer correct anyone, even tongue in cheek style, when it comes to the nationality of writers and performers. I’ve heard that slang term many a time. I thought knackered meant drunk, but I guess it can mean exhausted as well.

        • Get off – I’m usually flat out wrong here 🙂 Ah well, let me fill you in on the term in that case – usually the means exhausted (though colloquially it is used lewdly to mean sexual exhaustion), derived from ‘knacker’ who would be responsible for turning dead horses into glue (hence a ‘knacker’s yard’). So there you go!!!

  6. Douglas Sanderson is new to me as well, Sergio. I like the pace of these novels. I do need to ramp up the thriller quotient of the novels I have been prone to reading of late.

    • Thanks Prashant – very 50s, but I think in a good way for the most part (though the depiction of women as either tragic victims, femme fatales or tarts with hearts of gold does grate!

  7. realthog says:

    The Sanderson titles sound splendid, and huge thanks to Stark House for bringing these and so many others back into the light.

  8. I buy just about everything STARK HOUSE publishes. I like their format and the price is right. As you point out, these books are hard to find–which applies to most of the STARK HOUSE titles.

  9. tracybham says:

    Thanks for the introduction to this author. I will be following up on some of his books. In addition to these, I am interested in some of the ones set in Canada. I do have a couple of Stark editions for other authors: Wade Miller and Harry Whittington, I think. Unread, of course.

    • Thanks Tracy I hope you are properly intrigued! And snap – I too have Stark editions of Wade Miller and Harry Whittington on my TBR!

      • tracybham says:

        I got home and discovered I was mistaken. I have two Stark editions of Harry Whittington novels, with a total of 5 novels between them. I hope I like his books. I am sure I will, and each is fairly short.

    • Brian Busby says:

      Tracy, Stark House has brought back two of the novels Sanderson set in Canada: The Deadly Dames and A Dum-Dum for the President. They’re paired in a single volume. The others Sanderson set on this side of the border are his “serious” debut novel Dark Passions Subdue, Exit in Green (revised as Murder Came Tumbling), Hot Freeze and The Darker Traffic (a/k/a Blondes Are My Trouble). All except Exit in Green take place in Montreal (as do The Deadly Dames and A Dum-Dum for the President). My personal favourites are Hot Freeze and The Darker Traffic, both of which we’ll be bringing back as part of the Ricochet Books series. John Norris will be contributing the Introduction to the latter!

      • Thanks for that info Brian – great news about the Ricochet reprints!

      • tracybham says:

        Thanks, Brian, I did see that volume with Deadly Dames and Dum-Dum for the President at the Stark House site yesterday when I was poking around there. And thanks especially for the information on other books that have a Canadian setting. Glad to hear about the Ricochet editions that are coming out and great that John is introducing one of them. I do have one Ricochet book, The Long November by James Benson Nablo, with an introduction that you wrote. Looking forward to that one also.

        • Brian Busby says:

          I’ll be very interested in hearing what you have to say about The Long November, Tracy. I was very pleased that we were able to bring it back. I eagerly anticipate Hot Freeze, which I think is the very best post-war noir novel set in Canada (and here I’m including Brian Moore and David Montrose).

          • I’m a big Moore fan Brian and I really enjoyed was your reviews of his pseudonymous works as I was completely unaware of them (as you say, they were not usually included in his standard bibliography while he was still writing.

        • I hadn’t heard about these so really looking forward to getting my hands on some – here is the website: http://www.vehiculepress.com/1-ricochet.php

          • Brian Busby says:

            I think you’ll like them, Sergio. Of those published to date I think the best is The Crime on Cote des Neiges by David Montrose, which introduces P.I.Russell Teed. Murder Over Dorval and The Body on Mount Royal follow.

          • Sounds great Brian, thanks very much, will see to start there.

  10. Brian Busby says:

    I just finished Night of Horns myself, Sergio, so found your review especially interesting. A whirlwind of a novel, typical of Sanderson’s work, I think. I too found it more satisfying than Cry Wolfram. For my money, I’d say the best of the Stark House Sanderson reprints is Pure Sweet Hell/Catch a Fallen Starlet, but I recommend them all.

    I’m not too put off by your categorizing Night of Horns as “American Fiction”. Not that I agree. Sanderson never lived in the United States. A Brit who settled in Canada, then Spain, then Canada, then Spain, I’m not about to plant a Canadian flag on his work – not to the exclusion of the Union Jack and la Rojigualda, anyway.

    That said, I’m not sure it’s correct that the novel was written for an American publisher. I’m almost certain that the Secker & Warburg edition is the true first, if only by a matter of months, and so many of his books at this point in his career were published on both sides of the pond. This may explain “knackered” and the excitement involving the “boot” of Race’s car. These raised a smile, as did “the rye on her breath would have knocked down a dray horse”. Not the sort of thing you’d expect from a California lawyer, unless… Could it be that Race is British? Nah, I’m sure I’m over thinking this.

    Here’s hoping you give the other Stark House titles a read. I’m really interested in hearing what you think.

    • Thanks for all the great feedback Brian. Given the California setting (Greg reckons it is probably mean to be Dan Diego) and Noir style, it just seemed that this was the market that Sanderson was primarily aiming for.

      • Brian Busby says:

        You may be right, Sergio, but I’m not sold. I doubt Cry Wolfram was written for the French market, Pure Sweet Hell for the Spanish or Flee from Terror for the Yugoslavian. Sanderson tended to set his books in places he knew; the better he knew a locale, the more likely he was to use it. This is why we so many of his novels are set in Spain and Canada, but so few – two – in the United States. And that noir style? His first two novels aside, it’s there in every Sanderson I’ve read, including the ones that were never published in the United States.

        • None the less, do you think the fact that British characters in HORNS are presented as outsiders and ineffectual was meant to please US readers? I would have thought so …

          • Brian Busby says:

            I admit I’ve not given it much thought and am now trying to remember which characters are British other than Scrine, the crook who reminds our hero of Truman Capote. Given the locale, it’s no real surprise that he’s an outsider. I see him as one of a number of ineffectual characters. What’s more, Scrine is far from the most dislikable.

            That said, keeping in mind that Sanderson came to dislike the country of his birth, It would be interesting to take a good look the way he portrays the British. Unless my memory is faulty, I’ve yet to read a Sanderson thriller in which the hero wasn’t American or Canadian.

          • Thanks for that Brian – I feel like I’ve opened a Pandora can of worms (sic) but in a good way 🙂

  11. Bev Hankins says:

    Before I even read your review–I just have to ask….Is it even possible for a woman to get herself in that position (referring to the very first photo at the top)???? I know I can’t.

  12. Bev Hankins says:

    Okay…after getting sidetracked by that cover photo…I’ve read your very good (as per usual) review, Sergio. And I have to say that I don’t think I’ll be hunting these down any time soon–Wolfram sounds a bit more in my line even with “less plot” and the “limp climax.” Congrats on the two Bingos!

    • Thanks Bev – I know you are not keen on hardboiled in general, so fair enough! Of the two, actually NIGHT OF THE BIG HORNS is the closest to a traditional whodunit and there is only a smidgen of violence described and the sex happens only after an ellipsis 🙂

      • Bev Hankins says:

        Well…sex wouldn’t necessarily put me off–depending on what exactly the author did with that. Violence and what seems (from your descriptions in the review) to be the general style would. To be fair…I do have several hardboiled titles sitting on my TBR stacks–books that just put themselves in my path and seemed to need to come home with me. 🙂

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