Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Someone Is Bleeding -- Richard Matheson

For years I’ve heard good things about Richard Matheson’s early suspense novels, but I’d never read any of them until now. SOMEONE IS BLEEDING was in fact Matheson’s first novel, published by Lion Books in 1953. That’s the cover from that edition you see over to the left, but I actually read the novel in a much more recent trade paperback omnibus edition published by Forge Books, which also includes FURY ON SUNDAY and RIDE THE NIGHTMARE. I’ll be reading them soon, I hope.

SOMEONE IS BLEEDING is the story of young would-be author David Newton, who goes to California to write novels after seeing action in Europe during World War II. Some of this background is drawn from Matheson’s own life, but not, I hope, the main storyline, which finds Newton meeting and falling in love with a beautiful young woman who may or may not be a psychotic killer. Matheson keeps the story racing along, throwing all sorts of obstacles in the path of Dave and the beautiful but possibly deadly Peggy, including a shady lawyer, a former mob hitman working as a chauffeur, a dogged police detective, and a series of ice pick murders. The introduction to the reprint edition mentions that Anthony Boucher’s review of this book compared it to the work of Cornell Woolrich, and I can see that. Dave Newton is very reminiscent of some of Woolrich’s everyman protagonists who find themselves caught up in nightmarish, dangerous situations.

My reaction to this book was rather mixed. Matheson’s spare prose is very effective most of the time. The plot twists back and forth quite a bit, which I like, and the portrait of post-war Los Angeles is good. There’s a great chase scene, something you usually think of more in terms of movies than books, but Matheson sure makes it work here. And the book has a real punch-in-the-gut ending.

However, at times the writing seems more rushed and incomplete than terse, and Dave Newton is so wishy-washy that it’s kind of hard to root for him. He also has a habit of doing dumb things for no good reason other than to keep the plot moving along. Overall, though, Matheson’s ability to create an atmosphere of tension and menace and dread is enough to overcome those problems, I think, making this a book that’s well worth reading. And I certainly enjoyed it enough to look forward to reading the other two books in the reprint volume.


Juri said...

Wasn't the novellette that Matheson based this on published in an anthology some ten years back? AMERICAN PULP, perhaps? I think that was absolutely great. (But it may have been another one of his crime novels.)

RIDE THE NIGHTMARE (1959) became a very good episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

James Reasoner said...


Good catch! "The Frigid Flame", the shorter version of SOMEONE IS BLEEDING, was indeed reprinted in AMERICAN PULP. I never read that version (despite having a story in the same anthology).

Juri said...

Hey, I didn't remember that one, even though now that you mention it, I do remember your story and liking it! Try the shorter version, I remember it being one of the best pieces I ever read. (To permit a sligh exaggeration here.)

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Matthew Bradley said...

Matheson's Noir: Three Novels of Suspense (I wrote the introduction, and am also the author of Richard Matheson on Screen) was published in hardcover by G&G Books in 1997, and in trade paperback by Tor in 2005; it is available on Amazon. For the record, Someone Is Bleeding was NOT based on "The Frigid Flame" (Justice, October 1955). Rather, both that and "The Untouchable Divorcee" (Stag, May 1956) were abbreviated versions of the novel created for magazine publication. Similarly, "The Frenzied Weekend" (For Men Only, June 1956) was an abridgement of Fury on Sunday. However, Ride the Nightmare actually WAS expanded from "Now Die in It" (Mystery Tales, December 1958).