Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Richard Neely (originally published Nov. 2005)

I'm posting this again because Steve Lewis ran a piece on Neely the other night. I thought I'd second the motion that Neely deserves to be back in print.


I happened to read The Damned Innocents by Richard Neely last night. Kiny crime pulp circa 1970s. Enjoyed it very much. Thought I'd repost this piece on Neely.

Richard Neely (originally published Nov. 2005)

The first time I ever spoke to Richard Neely, suspense novelist extraordinaire, he kept trying to place my name. "It's so damned familiar--wait a minute, you're the guy who called me the de Sade of crime fiction."

Loose lips sink ships. So can old reviews. I figured that our busines would sink if he ever remembered that long ago review. But he laughed. "I think I was just ahead of my time."

Actually, I'd meant that remark as a compliment because I was pointing out that Neely, despite the Irish name, took a very French approach to the psychological machinations of sex in his books. Three of his books became French movies. Somebody apparently agreed with me

Neely, a very sleek and successful advertising man, is gone now and so, undeservedly, are his books. The Walter Syndrome, his bestselling suspense novel, was almost ruined for me when I guessed the ending on page two, something I never do. But I pressed on and it was well worth it. This was a take on Psycho set in Thirties and the storytelling is spellbinding. The voice is worthy of Fredric Brown at his best.

I was thinking of Neely last night because I was finishing up his novel The Plastic Nightmare, which became an incomprehensible movie called Shattered. Neely loved tricks as much as Woolrich did and Plastic is a field of land mines. He even manages to spin some fresh variations on the amnesia theme. It's as noir as noir can be but mysteriously I've never seen Neely referred to on any noir list. My theory is that his books, for the most part, were presented in such tony packages, they were bypassed by mystery fans. They looked mainstream.

The Damned Innocents became a fair French flick. What it missed was the sorrow. Neely always caught the sorrow of sexual betrayl with a kind of suicidal wisdom. While his books aren't kinky by today's measure, they're dark in the way only sexual themes can be. Love kills, baby.

Not that he didn't have a sudsy side. He wrote a couple of big sexy workplace novels that I could never plow through but he also wrote The Ridgeway Women which was SUPPOSED to be a big sexy workplace book that was undermined in a good way by the riveting neuroses and desperation of all his best books. This was Arrested Development played as drama.

A Madness of The Heart suffers from a style Neely seemed to have invented from scratch for this particular novel. It's another dazzler--a really convincing story about a rapist and the human debris he leaves in his wake--but the prose gets in my way every once in awhile. It isn't that it's fancy-schmancy, it's just that it gets labored sometimes. And gives us more information than we need.

I liked Neely, man and writer, and I liked his books, too. Somebody should bring him back. He's my kind of noir writer--down and out in the dark underbelly of the success-driven American middle class, like non-Trav John D. MacDonald only doomed without hope of salvation.

1 comment:

Corky Curtiss said...

It's a great pleasure to read your blog, Ed. I discovered this site last year while searching for information about Richard Neely.

The Walter Syndrome seemed to be inspired by the Zodiac Killer. The cover of the paperback edition exploited that connection.

Neely's Death to My Beloved is another lurid novel circa late '60s/early '70s. From what I remember, it touched on the themes mentioned here ("the sorrow of sexual betrayal" and "a kind of suicidal wisdom.")

By the way, your introduction to the Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction really nailed the qualities that made Gold Medal great. Thank you for your insights.


David S.