Friday, March 31, 2017

Forgotten Books: THE SNATCHERS by Lionel White (1953)

I’d say that this book has echoes of Richard Stark’s Parker novels—but I can’t, because it was published seven years before the first Parker book, The Hunter. What’s the opposite of echoes? Beats me, but the feeling was there, the whole way through.

The author doesn’t fool around here. As the story begins, the crime has already taken place, and tensions are rising. The plot is simmering on page 1 and keeps getting hotter until—on the final page—well, you’ll have to read it and see. It’s the kind of thriller that keeps your eyes glued to the page.

Our hero is Cal Dent, the guy who masterminds and bankrolls the kidnapping of a little rich girl. As Parker will do so many times in years to come, Dent chooses the crew, then struggles do deal with their potpourri of personality disorders to keep the job from going off the rails. And while each member of the gang has a skill Dent requires, each has a nasty quirk that worms its way to forefront. By the end of the story all four quirks are quirking full blast, and Dent is battling an unexpected one of his own. I don’t remember Parker ever having it this tough.

Lionel White manages to shift point of view anytime he wants, and gets away with it, immersing us in every scene from multiple angles. We know what each of the Snatchers is thinking and feeling about the situation—and about each other—at every step of the way. Instead of being distracting, it heightens the tension.

As you’d expect, Cal Dent is the clearest thinker of the lot, and the closest to a normal human being. Though a career criminal, he has scruples—even a conscience—and has carefully planned this kidnapping to be his last job, the one that sets him up for life. Commensurate with his management skills, he expects to walk away with half the take, a cool $250,000.

Under Dent’s skin right from the start is Pearl, a hard-edged dame who oozes sex appeal and wields it like a weapon. At the moment, she’s hooked up with a brutal and ignorant thug named Red, who seems to be on hand chiefly as a driver. Hating everyone, and being hated in return, is an even more brutal, bestial and utterly merciless thug named Gino. Aside from Dent, the only member with any brains is Fats, an unkempt, foul-smelling rat who proves too smart for Dent’s own good.

Also on hand, and a major factor in the proceedings, is the kidnapee’s nanny, a hot-but-clean young babe who fires the blood of every Snatcher but Pearl.

The whole bunch are lot are holed up in a beach-front house in a rural area of Long Island (which presumably still existed in 1955), from which they venture out for sustenance and the needs of Dent’s scheme, and where they are bedeviled by a small-town cop who’s a lot smarter than he lets on.

It all comes to a boil with a slam-bang finish, with plenty of surprises along the way. This was White’s first book (with 35 or so more to come), and was filmed in 1968 as The Night of the Following Day, with Marlon Brando, Richard Boone and Rita Moreno.

Published as a Gold Medal original back in 1953, The Snatchers is now back in print as the first half of a twofer from Stark House Press. 


3 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I can't remember when I first saw a reference to "point of view hopping," but a lot of writers did that kind of thing back in the old days, and I never found it distracting. In fact, I kind of liked it when it was done well, the way White does it. The guy wrote a lot of terrific books, and it's great that Stark House is reprinting some of them.

Todd said...

Presages, rather than echoes...

Christopher Davis said...

I read THE BIG CAPER back when it was free on Munsey's, and it was kind of like a Parker heist. More so than many another.

It's been a long time since I saw Ronald Reagan's last movie (THE KILLERS, 1964), but I think it owed a lot more to Lionel White than to Ernest Hemingway.