Friday, February 23, 2024

A Rough Edges Rerun: Odds Against Linda - Steve Ward (Norman Rosenthal)

(This post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on January 16, 2009.)

Steve Ward’s ODDS AGAINST LINDA seems to be the only book Ward ever published, at least under that name. The writing is good enough, and the name so generic, that I have to wonder if Ward is a pseudonym.

The narrator of this novel is Peter Conrad, a Korean War vet who lost a leg in that conflict. Following the war, he moved to Mexico to make a living as a commercial artist, but as the book opens, he’s returning to San Francisco with his new wife Linda. Before he even gets out of the airport, though, he gets knocked out, kidnapped, and Linda disappears. From there on, Things Get Worse. Soon enough, Pete’s on the run, charged with a murder he didn’t commit, and as he himself notes, a guy with one leg can’t do much running.

This is a short novel (107 pages), but the author packs in a lot of stuff: a piano-playing dwarf, beautiful strippers, double identities, gunplay, brutal fistfights, torture, truth serum . . . You get the idea. Halfway through, there are two big twists, one of which you’ll see coming. But the other you might not. I didn’t. The whole plot is familiar enough that you’ll probably have a pretty good idea where the author is going, but he throws in enough oddball notes along the way and the writing is smooth enough so that I found reading the novel a fast, very entertaining experience. Highly recommended if you run across a copy of it.

But I’d still like to know if Steve Ward was really somebody else.

(In the comments on the original post, Bill Crider clued me in that Steve Ward was really Norman Rosenthal, who wrote another Ace Double novel, SILENCED WITNESS, under his own name. Below is more information about him that I got from an email exchange with his son.)

 “I found your blog, posted January, 2009, about the ACE paperback book title, "Odds Against Linda." I was very pleased to read what you had to say. Steve Ward was a pseudonym for Norman Rosenthal, who also wrote "Silenced Witness." They are the same person and that I know because it is my dad. He loved to write and wrote on the side while holding down a regular job. Unfortunately he had no other books published. He was working on several, but died before any could be completed.”

“If you would like, here's some biographical information on my father. During WWII my dad was a bombardier on a B-24. He flew out of Italy and while on a mission over Vienna was shot down and became a POW. He spent his time in the famous Stalag Luft III until General Patton liberated the camp at the end of the war.

In 1947, he graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. He and my mother lived in California for almost 20 years where he worked as a general manager for an established newspaper publisher. While in California he belonged to the Northern California Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and at one time held an officers position in the chapter. Such people as Lenore Glen Offord and Anthony Boucher also belonged at that time.

My parents then moved to Ohio where he became Advertising and Marketing Director for Jacobs, Visconsi & Jacobs, a shopping center developer. (Yes, the same Jacobs that owned the Cleveland Indians, but not until several years after my dad retired).

My dad not only loved to write, but to read and listen to music. He had a very extensive library and record collection. Writing was a passion of his, but it's hard to support a family on writing alone. "Silenced Witness" was published in 1955. He then wrote "Odds Against Linda" under the name of Steve Ward which was published in 1960. Both were written while living in California. Over the years he had worked on several novels but because of work, was never ever able to finish any of them to his satisfaction. However, after his retirement, he did have two short stories published in the Sunday magazine section of the "Cleveland Plain Dealer." He retired in the late 1980s and really started to delve into his writing. Unfortunately shortly afterwards he became ill with Alzheimer's and it progressed rather rapidly before he could finish any other books. He died in November, 1998.”

(Thanks to Norman Rosenthal's son for this information. I'm glad I was able to pull it all together into one post. I have a copy of Rosenthal's other novel SILENCED WITNESS somewhere, but I've never read it.)


Hard Bitten Action said...

THIS is why I check this blog every day! To find out about books I otherwise wouldn't hear about and to get information I won't get anywhere else.

Many thanks!

Walker Martin said...

Odds Against Linda sounds great and I'll have to dig it out and read it. I have a lot of Ace Doubles and I never would have gotten around to reading it. Thanks for this review.