Thursday, August 09, 2012

Forgotten Books: The Money Trap by Lionel White

The Money Trap

I've always enjoyed cops turned bad novels. These days when they go bad they automatically become killing machines. I prefer the older style where one murder will do and the book focuses on the mental and spiritual disintegration of the cop. Bad Lt. is the greatest example even though it's certainly modern.

I mention this because last night I read Lionel White's The Money Trap and realized that just about everything I like about genre fiction is packed into that novel. Compelling characters, an extremely cunning storyline and a believable if bitter love story that is truly adult.

Two cops cover a crime scene in which a wealthy doctor claims that he caught a burglar in his bedroom and shot him in the back. The doctor's prestige saves him from any serious scrutiny. But before the intruder died he told one of the cops something about the contents of the wall safe where the doctor hid an illicit one million dollars.

Though the narrator has to be dragged into it, he joins his fellow cop in figuring out how to separate the doctor from his million. Paralleling this is the story of his disintegrating marriage. For anybody who's ever drunk his way through a bad marriage some of the scenes are pretty grim.

White was a master of the multiple viewpoint caper novel. But I wish he'd written more intimate I-narratives like this one. He wrote a few others in this style but this was the best.
Couple of points first about the book. Donald Westlake always acknowledged White's influence on his work and reading this White novel you certainly see what he was talking about. The characters, the milieu and the plot turns Westlake learned from him became tropes in the vast Westlake library of tropes especially in the early years though throughout the Parker series all the way to the end.
Glenn Ford was right for the film as was Rita Hayworth here, sadly, near the end of her run. The beauty was almost all gone but somehow that was all right--somehow she was still beautiful anyway. You wanted to hold her, protect her. The soundtrack was way too melodramatic, Ricardo Montalban as the second cop would have been great if his part had been better written and the scenes with Ford's wife don't work right because they're too Hollywood. In the book she's independently wealthy--you accept that because the difference is, say, he's a working stiff and drives a new Chevy and she drives maybe a Caddy. But as only Hwood can...the place they live in is a palace and the parties she throws are enormous with Beautiful People walking around in evening attire while plucking martinis from the trays of servants. And I'm talking maybe a hundred people. Too much. But worth seeing. Oh and Joseph Cotton ala Montalban needed better writing to pull off his part. In the novel the doctor is a snake and should've been here, too.


Mathew Paust said...

I vaguely remember the movie from a late night TV showing. Haven't read the book, but it's on my list now.

Dave Plante said...

I love the film version of White's Clean Break retitled The Killing. One of the very best heist movies of any period.

I downloaded the novel it was based on to my Kindle and it's in the queue. If it's anywhere near as good as the film, I'll actively be seeking out other White titles.