Friday, December 04, 2009

Forgotten Books: Roadside Night - Erwin N. Nistler and Gerry P. Broderick

I guess ROADSIDE NIGHT qualifies as a Forgotten Book. In forty-plus years of reading and collecting books like this, I’d never heard of this novel or its authors, Erwin N. Nistler and Gerry P. Broderick. As far as I’ve been able to discover, this is the only book they ever published.

When you see the phrase “strange love” on a paperback from this era (1951), it’s usually code for a lesbian novel. Not in this case. The relationships here are strictly heterosexual. The narrator, Buck Randall, is an ex-G.I., a World War II vet who fought on Guadalcanal. He owns a tavern and a small motel on the Pacific coast in California. He’s having a minor romance with the beautiful teenage daughter of the man who owns a restaurant down the coast highway from the motel. He’s not particularly ambitious.

Then a gorgeous blonde in an expensive car stops at the tavern for a drink as she’s passing through the area, and Buck falls hard for her. He pines away until she comes back by. They start getting to know each other. She’s interested in him, too, and after they begin sleeping together, he finds out that she’s not as well-to-do as he thought at first. In fact, she’s in sort of a desperate situation, but she knows a way out, if only she can find somebody to help her . . .

Yep, you’ve read it before, starting with James M. Cain and going right on through the Fifties in the work of dozens of paperbackers like Charles Williams, Day Keene, Gil Brewer, and Orrie Hitt. The femme fatale, the likable but not-too-bright hero, the scheme that will make them both rich if only nothing goes wrong . . . but it always does. The first half of ROADSIDE NIGHT doesn’t blaze any new ground, but at least it’s a fairly early example of that standard plot. What makes it worth reading is the prose, which is bleak and fast-paced, and the sweaty air of doom and desperation that hangs over the book like fog rolling in from the sea.

Then the second half of the novel throws in just enough plot twists so that everything doesn’t work out quite the way you might expect it, and ROADSIDE NIGHT turns into a really nice little noir novel. I think the ending could have been stronger – Nistler and Broderick pull back just a little when maybe they shouldn’t have – but it’s still very effective. This isn’t some lost masterpiece of crime fiction, but it’s well worth reading and would make a good candidate for reprinting. It’s too short for Hard Case Crime, probably not much more than 35,000 words, but it would work just fine in, say, a Stark House collection with a couple of other short novels. I’m really glad I ran across it, and if you happen to do likewise, I think you should grab it and read it.

6 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

I'll be looking. I'm a sucker for that plot. Try the movie Jerichow for a German version.

Frank Loose said...

James ... I'm a sucker for the plot you summarized here. I can read it over and over and over again. Done right, with tweaks and twists and the right characters, I continually find it quite entertaining. I also love stories that feature I guy, a gal and a bag of money. I'm heading to Alibris right now ...

And Patti ... thanks for the heads-up about the movie. I love foreign films. Make it noir and its a double win.

Evan Lewis said...

"The sweaty air of doom and desperation..." Nice.

Max Allan Collins said...

I have the original art for the cover to a later edition on my wall -- this was something of a bestseller and ran through many printings.

I discovered this as a kid and it seemed to me then to be about the best James M. Cain imitation ever. My opinion hasn't changed.

Anonymous said...

God help me, I love motel noir, and this sounds like a great example of it -- especially with MAC's rec thrown in for good measure.

I'm off to ABE. Thanks for the heads-up on this one, James.

~ Ron C.

Jim Linderman said...

I guess all love is strange! Nice post.

Jim Linderman
Dull Tool Dim Bulb