I read this book for the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge 2014. The challenge is to read 6 or more Vintage Mysteries. All novels must have been originally written before 1960 and be from the mystery category.
I read this for G-1: Mystery with a crime other than Murder
A Touch of Death – Charles Williams
An knee injury kept college football star Lee Scarborough from going pro. At the beginning of this superb noir mystery, he’s on his uppers and ripe for trouble. It finds him in the guise of two beauties. Diana James recruits him to break and enter the house of Madelon Butler who may or may not be sitting on $120,000 that her missing husband embezzled from his employer. Outstanding is the scene in which Lee breaks into the darkened house only to find an utterly plastered Madelon. When she wakes up the next day, Lee finds out she one of the toughest, shrewdest babes a reader has ever met in fiction.
Pulp expert Woody Haut calls Williams the "foremost practitioner" of hard-boiled suspense that sold in the thousands from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s: "So prolific and accomplished a writer was Charles Williams that he single-handedly made many subsequent pulp culture novels seem like little more than parodies." Williams was from Texas so he was skillful with the homey, apt metaphor: “I drove as if the car was held together with paper clips.” Another fantastic set piece is when Lee and Madelon are trapped in a hunting cabin by unseen sniper skulking in the woods. Williams weaves narrative magic when Lee and Madelon are fleeing the bad guys and the cops, while driving on Florida back-country roads and small towns in darkness black as pitch.
Finally, it’s not just action. Williams has Lee oh-so-gradually go off the rails, from a struggling guy to a thug that beats cops over the head. And for what, as Frances McDormands’ character asked in Fargo, “For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little money, you know.”