Jake Abbott is an impoverished journalist in trouble in post-War Italy. Desperate to extricate himself from an art forgery scam he is involved in, Jake escapes his larcenous employer Turrido by beating him up, simultaneously humiliating him into the bargain. Now, with Turrido's youthful protege Angelo on his tail and eager to prove himself to his employer, Jake is flung out of the frying pan and into the fire when his editor Ralph Ellison sends him to a small town called Piscoli which is threatened by a raging flood.
However, the story isn't the only thing waiting there for Jake. Pursued by Angelo, who is eager to make a name for himself, Jake is surprised to find Ellison's wife Grace - with whom he has been having an adulterous relationship and who has worked her passage to Piscoli by offering assistance to a man called Leverett who has been sent by the Italian-American Assistance Committee to supervise aid - as an unwelcome companion. Accompanied by his photographer friend Harry Myers, Jake arrives in the small town of Asceno on the way to Piscoli, but here the raging floodwaters deny the group the chance to reach their intended destination.
And, when Jake becomes further embroiled in some of the town's guilty secrets, which included a valuable lost stash of jewellery and rare paintings that are uncovered by the floodwaters, this unlikely knight in tarnished armour finds himself trapped both by a natural disaster and a series of mortal foes, any of which could bring his life to a violent and premature end.
This is full-tilt action-adventure melodrama, and one that has the reader tearing through its pages like the flood raging through the town. The excitement barely lets up throughout the 144 pages, the plot twisting and turning in imitation of the the raging torrent of the title, barely allowing one time to ponder the inevitable implausibilities (not the least of which being a seemingly indestructible hero who takes repeated brutal beatings at the hands and feet of various adversaries, but who seems to suffer few lasting ill-effects).
So, this is almost a quintessential paperback original of its time, featuring swift, sharp descriptions establishing time and place, thumbnail character sketches telling you all you need to know about motives and morals and effectively concealing its mystery until the hero figures it out in the final chapter. Of course this isn't great literature, but it's brisk, well-crafted and solid entertainment that delivers the requisite square-jawed, two-fisted action and hardboiled murderous criminality in a two-hour jolt; as well as one that doesn't waste its words or its readers' time in doing so.
AFTERWORD: Malcolm Douglas was a pseudonym for Douglas Sanderson and is the subject of an excellent and thorough article "Douglas Sanderson: Pure Sweet Hell" by Gregory Shepard which features in Paperback Parade Issue 84 (and if you don't subscribe to editor Gary Lovisi's excellent and essential publication, I recommend you head over to http://www.gryphonbooks.com/Paperback_Parade/Paperback%20Parade%20Back%20Issues.htm and take out a subscription).
This book had previously languished unread in my ever-increasing "To Be Read" pile for several years since I bought it, and the aforementioned article compelled me to crack open its covers and rectify this omission. I was glad I did and now intend to read more of the author's work. At the time of writing, there are a few copies available online at reasonable prices (there is also a UK Gold Medal edition from 1960 that seems to be rather more uncommon than the US paperback originals), so I recommend you pick one up and let this "Rain" wash over you.