Friday, January 29, 2021

Forgotten Books: So Fair, So Evil - Paul Connolly (Tom Wicker)

Noted journalist Tom Wicker wrote three noirish crime novels for Gold Medal in the Fifties: GET OUT OF TOWN in 1951, TEARS ARE FOR ANGELS in 1952, and SO FAIR, SO EVIL in 1955. I read TEARS ARE FOR ANGELS last year and liked it quite a bit. I just read Wicker's final novel under the Connolly name, SO FAIR, SO EVIL, and enjoyed it a great deal, as well.

This one starts with protagonist/narrator Frank Sinclair returning to the city in Alabama where his wife Dolly committed suicide a year earlier by driving her car into a boulder, while Sinclair was in a mental hospital because of trauma suffered during his service in the Korean War. Sinclair is recovered from his mental breakdown, but he still has one real obsession: his belief that his wife didn't commit suicide but rather was murdered. And he's come back to the town where they lived to find the killer.

It's a good set-up for an investigation, but Sinclair doesn't really have time to do too much poking around, because all the action in SO FAIR, SO EVIL takes place in about 24 hours. Even so, Wicker packs quite a bit into this story. Most of it, admittedly, is more domestic drama than crime story. Dolly was part of the richest family in town. Her half-brother doted on her, and he, his rather icy wife, and their snooty circle of friends never really accepted Frank Sinclair as Dolly's husband since he was not only from out of town but was also a working man, an electrical engineer. Wicker fills in a lot of this background with flashbacks, but there's some action, too. Somebody tries to kill Frank, which convinces him more than ever that Dolly was murdered instead of killing herself. Can he figure out who among the group of rich, powerful people is responsible before he winds up dead, too?

Honestly, I figured out the big twist in this book very, very early on, but Wicker manages to slip in one little twist at the end I didn't see coming that's a nice sting in the tail. What makes SO FAIR, SO EVIL well worth reading and what kept me flipping the pages (I read it in two sittings, which is unusual for me) is the smooth, lyrical prose and the excellent characterization. Frank Sinclair isn't really that likable, but the reader roots for him anyway, and even the mostly despicable characters have their moments of sympathy and understanding, as well. Plus the actual resolution of the plot surprised me.

This is an excellent novel, probably not quite as good as TEARS ARE FOR ANGELS but in the same neighborhood. That just leaves GET OUT OF TOWN as the only Gold Medal by Wicker that I haven't read, and I may not since the only copies available on-line are a little too rich for my blood. But if I ever come across an affordable copy, I won't hesitate to grab it.


Lee Goldberg said...

A new edition is now available in ebook and trade paperback from Cutting Edge Books.

James Reasoner said...

Glad to hear it, Lee. This is really a book worth reading.