Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Touch of Death

Ed here: I've been reading Charles Williams novels three past few days. Thought I re-post this. I'll have a new one tomorrow or the next day.

I spent a good share of last night reading Hard Case Crime's snappy edition of A Touch of Death by Charles Williams and I'll say what I've said before about this book. It likely has more plot turns than just about any suspense novel I can ever recall reading.

One of Charles Williams' amoral failed men narrate. He was briefly a football star. Now he's a busted real estate agent. No wonder he gets interested, after initial reluctance, in stealing an one hundred twenty thousand dollars that a bank president took from his own bank. The woman who convinces him to help her makes it sound simple. It's probably in this mansion. All you have to do is get in there and find it. The bank president's wife won't be home for two days. You'll have plenty of time.

Right. Well, we know better than that, don't we? Yes, he gets in but he finds he's not alone. The woman is there, beautiful beyond description, and drunk beyond belief. But so is a killer. After saving her life, failed star takes her to a cabin in the woods where he plans to persuade her to tell him where the money is.

That's the beginning. Everybody in this book is a professional liar. And the bank president's wife is the most fatale of femmes. She lies on virtually every page and occasionally almost gets them killed. That she knows where the money is is obvious. That she killed her husband is also obvious. But who is trying to kill her and why?

As always with the Williams protagonist there is that sense of bitter melancholy. He is a prisoner of his failed past but naive about sex and money healing his loneliness. The sea novels contrast conspicuously with the small town novels. The sea gives the Williams protagonist purpose and the hope of spiritual redemption. But in the small towns, trapped in the vagaries of hypocrisy and constant judgement, he is always crushed by the forces he helped to set loose.

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