Friday, June 24, 2016

DEATH'S SWEET SONG by Clifton Adams

"But all things end, if you wait long enough."
The plot is classic pulp noir. A man meets a married babe that he can't stop pining over and is ultimately drawn into a sandpit of crime that he can't crawl out of no matter how hard he tries. We've seen this plot many times before, obviously. But where lesser writers of the time expected us to just accept the fact that the man immediately falls for the fatale and would do anything for her,  Adams takes time here to really build Joe Hooper's motivation. We quickly feel his disillusion with his motel/gas station business, his desire to get out of his dead-end hometown, his disappointment with his bland girlfriend Beth, and his excitement and hard-on for the seductive Paula Sheldon when she shows up in town with her husband. So by the time the plot kicks into high gear and Joe decides to get his hands on a payroll heist and his hands on Paula Sheldon's short shorts, we understand his desire to seize an opportunity and we're along for the ride.

And Clifton Adams, mostly known as a successful Western writer, proves to be a master at pacing, never letting the reader up for air for a second. He also crafts a strong lead character in Joe Hooper, especially in the anguish he feels at his father's growing disappointment in him as things go from bad to worse. The small handful of crime pulp that Adams wrote in his career, including this one, are considered some of the best of the classic noir era. While the plot may be very familiar to fans of classic pulp, it's only with the master writers that you see it done with such a knack for pace, tension, and command of the material.
"You wouldn't like my world," she said. "You wouldn't like me either, after you got to know me."

"The way I feel about you has nothing to do with liking you. I just have to have you. As for this world of yours, all I ask is that it be different from the one I've known all my life."

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