I had never heard of this novel or the author before reading it. There’s a political columnist by the name of Robert Novak, but I have my doubts he’s the same guy who wrote CLIMB A BROKEN LADDER and B-GIRL, both published in 1956 by Ace and as far as I’ve been able to determine, the only two books by this author.
CLIMB A BROKEN LADDER is a low-life novel, I guess you’d call it, a story about the drunks, beggars, and prostitutes who live along Seattle’s skid row, characters with colorful names like the Bohunk, Big Phil, Newsy Nellie, and Pushover Patty. Though not as well-written, it reminded me of what I’ve read by Charles Bukowski, since a lot of the book finds the characters just wandering around in an alcoholic haze. This makes for a pretty meandering plot, but the story does have a coherent thread running through it, that being the budding romance between the Bohunk and Newsy Nellie. The book picks up steam in the final third with a twist or two that I didn’t see coming. It never quite becomes the noir crime novel that I thought it might, but it’s dark enough to please most readers of noir.
One thing I really liked about the book is its Seattle setting. I expect most skid row novels to be set in New York or San Francisco or some place like that. Novak also does a good job of working in the back-stories of the various characters, and then at the very end throws in a final plot twist that left me going, “Huh,” even though I wouldn’t go quite so far as to call it jaw-dropping. This is a pretty stark book that impressed me enough I may have to try to find a copy of Novak’s other novel, B-GIRL.