This 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
All 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
In 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
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!