Thursday, October 02, 2014

Forgotten Books: Charlotte Armstrong Night Call & Other Stories

New from Crippen & Landru

   I first read Charlotte Armstrong after seeing a 1952 movie called "Don't Bother To Knock." The stars were Richard Widmark and Marilyn Monroe. Monroe plays a seriously disturbed young woman asked to babysit the child of Widmark and his wife. Monroe is terrific--terrifying. Will she kill the kid?
   I'd seen the name Charlotte Armstrong on the metal paperback racks. She always seemed to have a new paperback out. And she was in Ellery Queen a lot. I tracked down Mischief which the Monroe movie was based on and became an Armstrong fan for life.
   If she was not as phantasmagoric as Dorothy B. Hughes sometimes was or as Elizabeth Sanxay Holding almost always was, Armstrong, as a critic recently noted, updated the gothic tropes of the previous generation and made of them tart and contemporary popular art.
  No critic of the time was a bigger promoter of Armstrong's work than Anthony Boucher. He noted that she was the creator of "suburan noir" and he was right.
  Though she used the tropes of what was dismissively called "women's fiction" she took them into a nether realm that was riveting and terrifying.
  Editors Rick Cypert and the late Kirby McCauley have collected here a collection of short and long stories that are a tribute to the Armstrong finesse and darkness.
  None of the pieces here have ever been collected before and there is also unpublished material.
  Everything in the book is packed with excellent storytelling but my favorite has to be the long novelette "Man in The Road") about a "career woman" (yes that was how they were divided from "real women" :) ) who returns home to a small bleak desert town only to find herself accused of a sinister mysterious hit-and-run. I'll pay this the highest compliment I can--this is the kind of twisty crime story Richard Matheson excelled at. It would have been perfect for the long form "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."
  My favorite of the shorter pieces is "The Cool Ones" which concerns the kidnapping of grandmother
and makes as contemporary a statement  as the Flower Power era she wrote it in.
  This is not only a major collection of a major writer  (thanks to Sarah Weinman for bringing so many overlooked women writers back to our attention) but is also the most beautifully jacketed and produced
book Crippen & Landru has ever published.   


Bill Crider said...

"The Cool Ones" was one of my favorites, too.

The Passing Tramp said...

Ed, agree with you about "The Man in the Road," that was a really nice discovery by the editors! I highlighted that one on my blog too. I hope this book gets lots of attention.

Martin Edwards said...

Very much looking forward to receiving my copy!