This is the second big collection of MacDonald’s pulp-era short stories. I’ve read the first, I think, sometime in the distant past. I thought I read it in the recent past, but I was thinking of End of the Tiger, which I read in 2015.
Unlike that collection, this one is a collection of pulpy crime stories that appeared in various magazines in the 1940s and 1950s. MacDonald says in his forward that he’s updated them a bit to make them more contemporary (to 1984). However, by now, they’re quite dated, but less so to someone who was sentient in 1984.
The book includes:
- “Deadly Damsel”, a story about a woman who kills husbands, and what happens when she meets a grifter in Florida.
- “State Police Report That…”, wherein an escaped convict is tripped up by a surprising twist.
- “Death for Sale”, wherein a prisoner of World War II hunts a French traitor to New Orleans.
- “A Corpse In His Dreams”, a successful investigative journalist returns to his hometown, haunted by the death of his girlfriend in a car accident he survived.
- “I Accuse Myself”, a man recovering from emergency brain surgery remembers the murder.
- “A Place to Live”, a city employee takes on the city machine with a story of corruption and finds the odds stacked against him.
- “Neighborly Interest”, a trio of kidnappers hide out in a nondescript house and are tripped up by a small detail.
- “The Night Is Over”, a grieving man hits bottom and is unwittingly enticed into a scheme by a con man and blackmailer, only to find himself trapped.
- “Secret Stain”, a hard man plays both ends of an organized crime group against each other for his own reasons.
- “Even Up the Odds”, a drunkard gets into a scrap with the local connected bully.
- “Verdict”, a hard man is sent out of town to eliminate a crusading police chief but finds more than he expected.
- “The High Gray Walls of Hate”, an ex-con looks to even the score with those who framed him.
- “Unmarried Widow”, a woman finds an out-of-work journalist in a bar, and mistakes him for someone named Jerry. The journalist finds that some hard men are after her, and he tries to find out why. The gimmick where a mad woman calls the protagonist by another name, you might remember, was used in the film Quigly Down Under. I did.
- “You Remember Jeanie”, a former cop hits bottom after his girl is killed in a bar, and he continues to frequent the bar for vengeance.
Overall, a pleasing book to read, and it’s the first book I’ve read this year (!). I might revisit the MacDonald stuff for fun some day, especially if I get to live to 200 and they stop making paper books so I have to reread what I have.