At the beginning of this novel, Larry Hanson is bored. He’s bored with his job because, while he’s trained to be an engineer and works at an engineering firm, he’s stuck in a desk job instead of being out building bridges and dams. He’s bored in his marriage to a cold, uncaring wife. He’s approaching middle-age and fears that life has passed him by. So when his wife is out of town caring for her sick mother and his beautiful young secretary calls him in the middle of the night because she thinks she’s just accidentally killed her old boyfriend who just got out of prison, Larry thinks that maybe he’ll finally have a little excitement in his life.
And since this is a Gold Medal novel, you know that Larry’s about to get a whole lot more excitement than he bargained for.
It’ll come as no surprise to anybody who’s read more than a few of these books that Larry soon finds himself up to his neck in trouble, of the multiple murder, on the run from the cops, illicit sex, missing money, and deadly secrets variety. Like a lot of Gold Medal protagonists, Larry’s kind of a heel and not too bright, at least at first. The plot stretches credulity almost to the breaking point a few times, but Day Keene is such a skillful author and keeps things moving so fast that the reader doesn’t really care. I didn’t, anyway.
Chances are you’ll see most of the twists and turns coming in this one, but I’ve discovered that reading a Gold Medal novel is a lot like taking a Sunday afternoon drive: the pleasure isn’t so much in where you’re going, but rather in how you get there. I’m not sure that MURDER ON THE SIDE is a book you’d hand to somebody who’s never read a Gold Medal and say, “This is what they’re like.” You’d probably need a Charles Williams or Harry Whittington or Gil Brewer novel for that. To me Day Keene’s work never quite reaches the same level of sweaty intensity that you find in a book by those other authors. It’s still incredibly entertaining and just flat-out fun to read. A little of his work is back in print now, from Hard Case Crime and Stark House, and more of it deserves to be, including MURDER ON THE SIDE. Highly recommended.
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