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...

Monday 12 November 2012

The Sweat Of Fear by Robert C. Dennis (Arrow Books) (1975)

One night, successful architect Paul Reeder sees a terrified girl running for her life in a quiet suburb. The problem is, he wasn't there at the time. Paul has only seen the crime after receiving images from a compact mirror he picked up after it was dropped by a woman in the foyer of his office building. And this fortunate - or unfortunate - intervention leads Paul to discover that he is psychic. However, his new gift - or affliction - involves him in a recent unsolved murder and a cast of characters including the members of a hippy cult that doesn't appear to practice peace and love, a reluctant witness and a killer (or killers) who resent the appearance of an amateur detective with a seemingly other-wordly gift.

This early 70s murder mystery whodunit promises much but delivers little. The psychic aspect of the plot is never explained and is apparently randomly acquired. So, instead of adding an exciting extra dimension to the narrative this merely results in Paul attempting to get his hands on some trinket or other in order to receive a psychic charge and advance the stuttering plot. This means the novel is repetitive and pedestrian and also becomes progressively less interesting given the similarity of these narrative building blocks.

It's possible this might not matter as much if the characters were quirky, vivid and leapt off the page - or if the author worked hard at evoking a time and place in which to immerse the reader. Unfortunately, the characters are cardboard, and location and incident bland to the point of tedium. So, in spite of a neat and rather cynical twist in the tail - which was a not uncommon narrative device at the time - there is little to engross or entertain and even less of a charge (psychic or otherwise) to convince the reader that there is more to this formulaic whodunit with a fantasy twist than meets the eye.

AFTERWORD: I was previously unaware of author Robert C. Dennis, but some amateur online sleuthing - unaided by any psychic insights - reveals that his literary career was far eclipsed by his screenwriting career. This was both lengthy and prolific, lasted from the early 50s until his death in 1983, and predominantly involved TV series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Untouchables, The Outer Limits, Hawaii Five-O,  Kojak, Charlie's Angels and T.J. Hooker.

Unfortunately, this novel exhibits the worst aspects of stolid and stereotypical TV genre writing of the day and the author's predominant employment in TV scriptwriting suggests that this was his strength. This UK paperback edition (there was an earlier UK Gollancz hardcover) was acquired for pennies rather than pounds along with a batch of 60s and 70s UK horror paperback fiction at a sadly since closed local charity shop. It boasts evocative - if slightly cheesy - uncredited artwork which suggests the book is a stalk and slash horror novel rather than this disappointing and forgettable whodunit.