Thursday, March 24, 2011

Charles Williams A TOUCH OF DEATH



A TOUCH OF DEATH (from 2008)

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.

6 comments:

Bill Crider said...

This is the first Charles Williams I remember reading all those years ago. It hooked me on his work for good.

Cullen Gallagher said...

This just arrived yesterday in the mail.

I also just pulled off the shelf another book you recommended, Colby's THE CAPTAIN MUST DIE, which I'll be reading before bed tonight.

Anonymous said...

Charles Williams is the best of the best. Great review, Ed. Thanks.

Ed Lynskey

Frank Loose said...

Just last week I re-read this book. I enjoyed it just as much as the first time. I read somewhere that The Big Bite was Williams' effort at handling the same story and correcting some things he didn't like in Touch of Death. I enjoyed TBB, but for my money Williams hit it out of the ballpark with TOD. Not sure what he was trying to "correct" or do better.

Martin Edwards said...

I don't know this one but will seek it out.

Anonymous said...

Last month a friend gave me a "stack" of e-books as a very thoughtful gift. I separated the files into a YES pile and a NO pile after researching the authors and reading some reviews. Charles Williams struck me as a potentially "juicy" writer of pulp fiction so I put all of about a dozen of his books I had into the YES pile. I started reading Big City Girl on the train after work and gave it up as too trailer trashy and almost suffocating with its all hillbilly cast...on to A TOUCH OF DEATH...maybe, just maybe, I would find some guilty pleasure here. WOW. It seemed to me I was reading an altogether different writer, a more cynical Dashiell Hammett, a genius of sorts. Couldn't put it down, a page turner, kept me up all night (to 4 a.m.), fell asleep with the Kindle on my hand, etc, etc, YES, the very definition of ENGROSSING. I finished it during breakfast THIS BOOK IS CLOSE TO PERFECT! WHAT A PLEASURE! O.K. but so much for what I have read on the net about there being no such thing as a bad Charles Williams book... Big City Girl-->bad Touch of Death-->good, very very good, in fact GREAT.