Mostly my musings on things vintage hardboiled and noir, literary and filmic and other things that take my fancy. Down these mean streets this man must go...

Friday, 31 August 2012

Killing Cousins by Fletcher Flora (Four Square Books 1786) (2nd printing, 1967)

Mrs. Willie Hogan is a bored resident of Ouichita Road, Quivera. Her seemingly rather dull husband Howard is wealthy enough to enable her to live comfortably, but she responds by taking a series of lovers to alleviate the small-town tedium. However, after being goaded one night by an exasperated Howard, Willie shoots and kills him. Now, she has to turn to Howard's cousin, the similarly bored but far smarter Quincy - with whom she has also been dallying - in order to get rid of her husband's corpse and provide a plausible explanation for his sudden disappearance. However, the apparently perfect plan swiftly begins to fall apart as the flaws and foibles of the small-town cast of characters are peeled away.

Fletcher Flora's 1961 novel is a short, sharp and punchy tale exposing the hypocrisies of affluent post-War America. Set amongst an often amoral middle-class milieu of louche country-club types for whom every hour seems to be cocktail hour, Flora subverts many generic expectations. For one thing, Willie is far from the conniving femme fatale one first suspects her to be and is instead rather dense and unable to plot herself out of her predicament. Her apparent salvation - or partner in crime - is far from being the strapping everyman type and is instead a rather dissipated seducer with a sharp understanding of human psychology. He and all the other male characters are also similarly flawed in being so taken with Willie's child-woman beauty that their moral compasses are all, to a degree, tilted out of whack and bear directly on Willie's ultimate fate; seemingly even beyond the final page of the novel.

Therefore, although ostensibly a hard-boiled crime novel with more than its fair share of twists and turns and characters emerging from the woodwork to seemingly thwart the protagonists' larcenous ambitions, the primary jabs here are often more satirical than generic with the author laying bare the often seemingly broadly drawn characters' flaws with a keen sense of moral disgust.

Overall, this is an impressive and well-written novel that rather ambushes the reader with its concealed intent, as well as being one with a cynical wrap-up that marks a shift from the generally re-established moral order of the 1950s crime novel to the more questioning decade that lay ahead.

VERDICT: Relatively wonderful.

AFTERWORD: This is the first novel I have read by an author I was previously more familiar with through reading his short stories in various crime digests of the '50s and '60s (e.g. Manhunt, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine). On the basis of this one, he's certainly a canny stylist whose other novels - which seem to be none too tough to find online - warrant further investigation.

1 comment:

  1. Sexy book cover. Great review. Thank you, Mr.Hardboiled.