Thursday, August 07, 2008

Forgotten Books: The Blank Wall; Bob Randisi

When Raymond Chandler called Elizabeth Sanxay Holding "the top suspense writer of them all" he may even have been sober. During this period Anthony Boucher said “For subtlety, realistic conviction, incredible economy, she’s in a class by herself."

From Wikpedia:

"Elizabeth Sanxay Holding wrote romantic novels during the 1920s, but, after the stock market crash in 1929, she turned to the more lucrative genre of the detective novel. From 1929 through 1954, she wrote eighteen detective novels, which sold well and earned her significant praise for her style and character development. Her series character for these novels was Lieutenant Levy. Holding also wrote numerous short stories for popular magazines of the day."

Holding is probably the only one-time romantic novelist whose work reminds me, at various times, of both Cornell Woolrich and David Goodis in its phantasmagoric delineation of reality. Even though many of her books operate on one level as tart commentaries on life in the upper classes, the characters involved are generally dark and desperate.

From womenwriters:

"The Blank Wall was first published in the 1940s and is set somewhere just outside of New York during World War II. Lucia Holley, mother of teenaged children and housewifely wife of a soldier away fighting in the Pacific, is a most unlikely protagonist for a tale of murder and blackmail and conspiracy... She is surprised to discover in herself a person different to the dull vaguely incompetent housewife she had come to believe herself to be. And the person that her children want her to be at the same time as they condescend to her for being so."

Some of the language in the above tells you how her publishers promoted her at the time, the romance novelist turned `tec writer. But as both Chandler and Boucher indicate that's a superficial reading of her brooding and sometimes agonized novels. In The Blank Wall the discovery of the killer is only the start of the real story, the beginning of a madness laid out with terrifying intensity. A few parts of it reminded me of Psycho.

You can find Holding in both Margaret Millar and Dorothy B. Hughes, women whose audiences were male and female alike and women who enjoyed turning reality upside down. Stark House has brought back many of her books in inexpensive editions. The Blank Wall has been made into a movie three times, most recently as "The Deep End" with Tilda Swanson and with a gay theme not in Holding's novel. The film was a critical but not commercial success and those of us who'd hoped it might bring Holding back into general notice were disappointed.

An elegant stylist, a wicked humorist and a powerful nail-bititng suspense novelist, Holding deserves to be recognized both for her achievemnts and her influence.


I've sold film right to my first Rat Pack book, EVERYBODY KILLS SOMEBODY SOMETIME, to Sandy Hackett, the late Buddy Hackett's son. I will be writing the screenplay. Plans are to begin filming January 2010. Sandy Hackett will star as Sands Casino pit boss Eddie G., who in the story is asked by Frank Sinatra to help find out who is sending Dean Martin threatening notes, while they are filming Ocean's 11 in 1960 Las Vegas. All of the Rat Pack members appear in the book, as well as other historical characters like Sands boss Jack Entratter, George Raft and Angie Dickinson.

This book was followed last year by LUCK BE A LADY, DON'T DIE, and in December HEY THERE (YOU WITH THE GUN IN YOUR HAND) will be published. All the books come from St.Martin's Press,and I'm presently working on the fourth, YOU'RE NOBODY TIL SOMEBODY KILLS YOU.

If you need any other information please let me know.


P.S.Just by coincidence the Rat Pack film ROBIN AND THE 7 HOODS will be appearing on Broadway in 2010.


August West said...

"The Blank Wall" is a marvelous piece of work and it's a shame it has been a "lost" classic for the past couple of generations. The blackmailer Martin Donnelly's relationship with Lucia is spun so clever, I never read anything like it. Maybe a woman could only write a thriller like this, a man would screw it up.


Martin Edwards said...

Ed, which are the three or four best Holding books in your opinion?

Brian said...

Hi Ed -- thanks for participating.