Friday, July 28, 2017
FFB, July 28, 2017
THE RED RIGHT HAND, Joel Townsley Rogers
People say that nothing good comes cheap.
My local library used to have a book sale every Wednesday with a huge section of 10 cent paperbacks. That’s where I found my copy of Joel Townsley Rogers' The Red Right Hand.
At best, I hoped for a few hours of entertainment. At worst…I hoped for a few hours of entertainment.
What I got was something much more—an amazingly well-plotted and sinister thriller. A nightmarish fever dream that’s reminiscent of a David Lynch film—when he’s on his game and puts aside all the arty gobbledygook of creamed corn and rabbit-headed protagonists.
Inis St. Erme and Elinor Darrie are on their way to Vermont to be married. On a lonely New England road, they are attacked by a hitchhiker, a strange little man with sharp teeth and twisted, corkscrew legs. Elinor manages to escape. St. Erme is not so lucky. The mad dwarf kidnaps him, dragging him along on a demented joyride that ends with several other townspeople dead and St. Erme’s corpse found along the roadside—his right hand hacked off at the wrist.
The mad dwarf’s rampage should have taken him directly past Dr. Henry Riddle and his stalled coupe. But Riddle didn’t see anything—no killer, no St. Erme, and no car.
Why? It’s the question that pulls Riddle into the hallucinatory murder spree, and plunges him into a surrealist nightmare that leaves him questioning his own sanity. As the action moves back and forth over the course of a single, tense night, Riddle tries to make sense of the events, his words shifting—sometimes brief, clipped, to the point; sometimes formalized, complex sentences befitting a learned man with a well-ordered brain; others a feverish frenzy pouring forth from the subconscious, a stream of images seething and writhing, the disjointed thoughts of a madman. All of which builds toward an unforeseen climax.
Originally published as a short story and then expanded into a novel, The Red Right Hand has been reprinted several times. (My own copy is from 1964, cost 50 cents, and was issued by Pyramid Books as part of their “Green Door Mystery” line.) Copies are easily found.
You should get yours before someone figures out that something this good does comes cheap and corrects the error.
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