Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Classic Noir Novel from Lionel White

Originally published in 1955, this is a classic noir novel from the prolific pulp writer, Lionel White. The main protagonist, Johnny Clay, is fresh out of prison with what he believes to be a foolproof plan for a robbery that will net a huge score. Clay plans to hit a horse racing track on the day of a big race and grab the day's proceeds just before they would be loaded into an armored truck to be taken to the bank.

The plan is so audacious and seemingly impossible, that no one has ever tried it before. But Clay has calculated the plan down to the last second and has recruited an unusual crew to assist him. Johnny believes that using professional crooks would be the mistake that would doom the plan. Rather, he has brought into the scheme a group of men, all of whom have regular jobs and all of whom have money problems that could be resolved by getting their share of the loot.

As the story unfolds, the point of view shifts among the various members of the crew and a few others as well. We watch them plan the robbery, and almost immediately, we see the weak point in the scheme. This is, after all, a noir novel and in these sorts of books things never go according to plan, and they generally don't turn out well. The characters are well-drawn, and the plot sucks the reader in from the beginning. It's a great example of the genre.

Stanley Kubrick made an excellent movie from this novel called The Killing, starring Sterling Hayden as Johnny, and Stark House has just released a new edition of the novel, joined with another of White's books, The Snatchers. There's a couple of great evenings to be had here, first reading the novel and then watching the film.

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