Wednesday, August 8, 2012

One Is a Lonely Number: forgotten noir from Bruce Elliott

Until I read One is a Lonely Number, Bruce Elliott was just a name on a list of authors who occasionally masqueraded as Maxwell Grant to give Walter Gibson a breather on The Shadow.

No more.

Now he’s a gritty noir writer who ranks right up with the best of them.

The “hero” of this 1952 novel is an unrepentant convict who, with nine other hardcore criminals, has just busted out of Joliet Prison. As news reports tell of the other escapees being caught one by one, Larry Camonille - the brains of the breakout - is determined that won’t happen to him. A prison operation has left him with only one lung, and his only hope is to find refuge in a drier climate - like Mexico.

Camonille has brains, and proves it in the way he steals his getaway money - he holds up a “tea” (read pot) party on Chicago’s South Side, where the victims can’t run to the law. Then he takes the smart route out of town - catching a freight in a hobo jungle. And he does avoid the law, but falls victim to crooks even more ruthless than he is.

Dead broke and discouraged, Camonille lands in a small town in Ohio, where his smarts go out the window, and he finds himself ensnared by two women with ruthless plans of their own. One’s a rich, oversexed middle-aged alcoholic who wants him to commit murder, and the other is a an irresistible, oversexed epileptic teen who want him to rob a bank. Camonille knows he should run for the border, but the breaks keep going against him.

And then he gets the worst break of all - he falls into something that might be love.

Elliott’s prose is tight, tough and laconic, and he knew what he was doing. We’re not supposed to like Camonille, because he really is a scumbag, but we do come to identify with him. How did Elliott do it? Beats me. Maybe he knew what Evil lurks in the hearts of men, and appealed to his reader's inner scumbag.

All I know is, I liked this novel, and I’m pleased to report Stark House has given it new life, teaming it with the Elliott Chaze novel, Black Wings Has My Angel.  That's available HERE. I’ll be reporting on the second half of this Stark House Double in Friday’s Forgotten Books.

1 comment:

George said...

I have this STARK HOUSE edition and after reading your post, I want to drop everything and read it!