Friday, January 23, 2009

Forgotten Books: Murder on the Side - Day Keene

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.


Charles Gramlich said...

I like those old Gold Medal books.

Juri said...

Great cover! And I liked the book as well - I think it's one of Keene's most typical. Which means it's good.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sometimes I am so frustrated by the number of not just books but authors I may never have a chance to read. I gotta quit my book group so I don't have to read books like INFIDEL every month!

Chris said...

I really liked your approach for this review--you conveyed the idea that though this isn't groundbreaking stuff, it's still worth reading, and explained how/why it is so. Definitely got me interested.

My favorite line: "The plot stretches credulity almost to the breaking point..." Jealous I never thought of that description! Nice writing.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Those old gold medal covers are awesome.

David Cranmer said...

I think I read this but I'm not sure. When I get back home I will dig through the pile and look for it.

Cullen Gallagher said...

"the pleasure isn’t so much in where you’re going, but rather in how you get there."

So true. I'm a big fan of Keene, so I will certainly keep my eyes open for this one. I actually just reviewed a Whittington novel, "Mourn the Hangman," over at my blog. Not one of his best, but still a good read. And a great title!

Anonymous said...

The greatest thing about Gold Medal novels, even many of their lesser efforts, is that they have a lethal combination of short page count and headlong narrative drive that makes a reader blast through them so quickly that the pages start to friction-burn.
So even if it's a weak novel you finish it in short order.
Many modern genre novels suffer by comparison because they're overlong, even padded, and are not concenred with building that kind of whirlwind narrative drive.
Give me one of those old Gold Medals any day.

I haven't read Murder on the Side, but was pleased to look over and see a copy in my library. Something to look forward to.

John Hocking

Scott D. Parker said...

I've read only two Keene novels (Home is the Sailor and The Guns of the Brazos) but have fallen in love with Keene's style already. I have one more on the shelf and then I'll have to track this one down.

Oh, and thanks for the OTR links.