Friday, March 06, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, March 6, 2015

(Oddly I could not get a cover of the book to stick on here).

THE WITCHING NIGHT, Leslie Waller (reviewed by Anthony Ambrogio)

THE WITCHING NIGHT, by Leslie Waller (writing as C. S. Cody), came out in 1952. I think it had a hardcover publication before its Dell paperback incarnation.

It's certainly a better-written book than MARK OF THE MOON*** (though I have to give MARK higher marks when it comes to cover design, front and back). You can tell that almost from the first page of this first-person narrative. Waller has a good way with words; his protagonist is cursed by a suburban Chicago cult and suffers the headaches of the damned, and damned if his descriptions of the hero's torments weren't enough to make ME start feeling as if I needed an aspirin.

So the narrative pulls you along as the skeptical hero gets thrust into this dark world of banally evil, slimily evil, and perhaps-inadvertently-evil characters (the last of which is, of course, a beautiful, alluring woman).

The narrator, a doctor, has a wise-cracking receptionist (who, for some reason never explained, is never given a name or is clearly described; she's the one who tells the "formaldehyde" knock-knock joke -- the only part of the book that I remembered; it occurs around page 167 of this 256-page, so I know I must have read at least that far the first time through).

What I didn't like about the book is that the seemingly polite demon society with which he gets involved (think along the lines of THE SEVENTH VICTIM or maybe the folks in ROSEMARY'S BABY) is never adequately described -- not their motives (though he speculates about them) nor their demises (why what happens to one person happens to her is never made clear -- not to me, at least), nor their exact relationships to one another. Maybe we're supposed to speculate, but I was waiting for that one moment, that one chapter, when All Was Revealed, which I didn't get.

The central love-hate relationship between him and the apparently unwitting priestess of the cult also seems to have ups and downs based on the exigencies of plot rather than any logical unfolding.

I couldn't help but wonder if the original ms. of THE WITCHING NIGHT was much longer but that the publisher told Waller to cut it down (which may be why he resorted to a pseudonym).

Well, for what it is, it's an engrossing page-turner. And maybe I shouldn't carp too much. MARK OF THE MOON has a long explanation at the end, tying up all sorts of loose ends, but, since it's inferior in terms of execution, it's not particularly satisfying, so who knows if clarification and explanation would have made THE WITCHING NIGHT any better?

(Anthony added this to explain where this comparison came from) He purchased both books recently but read MARK OF THE MOON first.

***"John Norris is probably right when he describes MARK OF THE MOON as ersatz Dennis Wheatley -- not particular well written or engrossing. (Of course, I confess that I only read one Wheatley novel, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, and, although the story was of interest, I wasn't particularly impressed with the writing in that book.) I'm a little more than a third of the way through MARK OF THE MOON, and I can attest to the less-than-scintillating writing. The writer is dropping big clues as to the cultish conspiracy at the heart of the book (though the clueless protagonist is having a hard time putting anything together); it's not a slog to get through the pages because one does want to see where everything is going to end up (and if the expected twists do occur), but it's no page turner. And the plot is familiar to anyone who's seen any of Hitchcock's spy thrillers or films like ROSEMARY'S BABY.

"I am sure I read this book when my dad had it, but I remember nothing about it except for one detail, which the protagonist can't figure out yet. The title mark is a small, crescent-shaped brand that a number of women sport under their left breast. I imagine it will prove to indicate that they are initiates into the cult. The protagonist's wife had such a mark; she told him it was a birthmark. Now she's gone, fled back to the little French village where she was born, taking their year-old son with them -- which is what has brought our hero back to this place where he spied for the Allies during WWII (and met his wife, a member of the Resistance). Since some 20 kids have disappeared from the region in the last two years, there's little doubt in the reader's mind that child sacrifice plays a part in these unholy rituals, but the protagonist hasn't figured it out yet. Oh, well, he's got 120 pages to go."

I thought that I had written to SOMEone (apparently not you) when I finished MARK OF THE MOON, but I couldn't find that letter anywhere. (This e-mail system online is very unwieldy and doesn't let me search of messages the way I would like.) Well, MARK OF THE MOON, although it holds one's interest (partly because the reader wonders when the protagonist is going to wise up and catch up with him), isn't the greatest -- there's one really stupid part where he wakes up in a cave and accidentally tips over a candle, which burns a message that's left for him so that, going by the letter's charred remains, he makes all sorts of misinterpretations. Talk about contrivances! And there was too much of him stumbling around in that cave for my tastes. But his climactic battle with the main bad guy is pretty well described -- the writer actually makes it exciting. His attitude toward the major woman in the plot is typical, I guess, of male attitudes of the time, but it's kind of annoying. (Can't say more without giving stuff away.)

Sergio Angelini, 1222, Anne Holt
Joe Barone, THE CROWDED GRAVE, Martin Walker
Les Blatt, SWAN SONG,  Edmund Crispin
Brian Busby, THE WINE OF LIFE, Arthur Stringer
Bill Cride, SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY, Edgar Lee Masters
David Cranmer, TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY, John LeCarre
Martin Edwards, THE RASP, Philip MacDonald
Curt Evan, TIME ON MY HANDS and STRANGER AT HOME, George Sanders
Ed Gorman, HAWKSBILL STATION, Robert Silverberg
John Hegenbergen, TENDER IS LEVINE, Andrew Bergman
Rich Horton, PICADILLY JIM, P.G. Wodehouse
Jerry House, ONLY THE CAT KNOWS, Marion Babson
Nick Jones, THE MAN WHO WROTE BOOKS IN HIS HEAD, Patricia Highsmith
Randy Johnson
George Kelley, OVER MY DEAD BODY, Lee Server
Margot Kinberg, THE DIVIDED CHILD, Ekaterine Nikas
Rob Kitchin, WINTER QUEEN, Boris Akunin
Evan Lewis, EXeCUTUIONER 42: THE IRANIAN HIT, Stephen Mertz
Steve Lewis, THE PARISIAN AFFAIR, Nick Carter
J.F. Norris, CORPSE ON THE WHITE HOUSE LAWN, DiplomatGraham Powell, TRAGEDY AT LAW, Cyril Hare
James Reasoner, THE TRADITIONAL WEST, Western Fictineers
Richard Robinson, PLANETS OF ADVENTURE, Murray Leinster
Kerrie Smith, AN EVENT IN AUTUMN, Henning Mankell
R.T. GARDENS OF THE DEAD, William Brodrick
TracyK, THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS, Agatha Chrisite
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, MASTERS OF NOIR, Volume 3
Prashant Trikannad, ALL'S FAIR, Richard Wormser


Charles Gramlich said...

Don't know this book but it sounds like something I'd enjoy.

Jerry House said...

It's on my TBR list. I should probably move it up a few notches.

Anonymous said...

This does sound interesting, Patti. Actually so do a lot of the others on this list. Thanks for including mine here :-)