Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Forgotten Books: The Long Saturday Night

Over what was essentially a quarter century career Charles Williams worked in various sub-genres of the suspense field. He came to prominence writing the small-town Southern crime novel and I always had the feeling that that was his favorite form. But he did adventure novels, sea novels, comic novels and his version of caper novels as well.

The Long Saturday Night rarely gets mentioned when the discussion turns to Williams and I've never understood why. This is a sleek and fevered man on the run novel that also incorporates another Williams acidic take on small town society.

John Warren is typical of the Williams Man. He is angry, even sullen much of the time in this case because of a wandering wife he loves far too much. Also like the typical Williams protagonist when he thinks of better days he looks back on his days as a college football player whose career was stopped by an accident. He's atypical in that he is a successful businessman, not a car salesman bored with life and up for anything if the sex is good.

Warren is a hunter. As the book opens he is returning to his office from an early morning session in a duck blind. A useless session. Though he heard two shots coming from another blind, he just assumed somebody had had better luck than his own. Turns out though that the shots were cover for a murder--and the dead man was a guy who would soon be identified as a man who rented office space from Warren--and who also had an affair with Warren's wife.

Couple problems. Warren is an outsider and people don't like outsiders so when the sheriff and especially his deputy start questioning Warren it's clear that he's in a lot of trouble. And when his wife finally wanders home he's even in more trouble.

This could almost be considered a companion novel to another Williams Gold Medal, that one called, conveniently enough, Man on The Run. What sets them apart from the usual chase novel is the intelligence of the narrator. He doesn't just run, he fights back. In this case he hires a private detective of note to help him find the real killer. And he keeps company with one of those bruised tentative women Williams likes so much--in this case his thirtyish secretary who is smart and decent without being treacly. Finding a sentimental note in Williams is tough unless it's buried in a revery about a woman who has betrayed him.

Triffault filmed this. I saw it a few years ago and didn't like it. Maybe it was my mood. There's a sadness at the heart of the best Williams novels and Triffault, at least for me, didn't get to it. He relied more on the cleverness of the story than the disappointing lives led by Warren and the secretary he comes to love.

This is a short book, a one sitting read, two at most, and an intense, brooding folk tale (as John D. MacDonald described the kind of book he and Williams wrote) that will stay with you for awhile.


Buck said...

Mr. Gorman, this is a very nice piece about a wonderful novelist. If you spent most of your waking hours writing about Williams,I--and probably more than a few others---would be a very happy boy.

Bill Crider said...

I reread this one a couple of years ago. I still can't figure out why Williams isn't a much bigger name than he is.

Frank Loose said...

Ed ... Great review. I agree with you about the Truffaut movie; it didn't capture the strengths of the book - the character relationships and the tension. Although i must say I liked Fanny Ardant! I first became aware of Williams through the movie The Hot Spot, based on his book Hell Hath No Fury. I liked the movie so much i sought out Williams' books. In turn, his books lead me to the great wealth that lies in the 50s and 60s Gold Medal books, Dell, and others. Lots of fun.

antonio714 said...

Ed, I am a fan of mystery books, but also of any good literature. For my money John D. and Charles Williams wrote some of the best novels of the 50s. Apparently Truffaut used The Long Saturday Night book to make a movie- tribute to Hitchcock and the essence of the book was lost in the process.