Friday, January 08, 2021

FFB-CROSS COUNTRY, Herbert D. Kastle

 (From the archives-2009)

Ed Gorman was the author of TICKET TO RIDE and many other fine stories-long and short.

Herbert D. Kastle wrote a number of science fiction stories in magazines of the 1950s. That's where I first read him. Later in the 1960s he was writing those fat sexy bestseller-type novels that owed more to marketing and Harold Robbins than his presumed muse.

Then in 1974 he wrote CROSS COUNTRY. Here's a quote from one of the reviews: "This novel seems to occupy the same dark and twisted territory as the works of Jim Thompson. Characters interact in a dance of barely suppressed psychopathological urges and desires that is as grotesquely fascinating as a multi-car pileup on the freeway. It
may leave you feeling unclean afterwards, but chances are you will not forget it."

Damn straight. It really is a sewer of sex and terror and blood-soaked suspense. I read it in one long sitting. If it's trash, as some called it at the time, it is spellbinding trash.

IMDB sums up the story line succinctly: "After a woman is found butchered in her New York apartment, suspicion falls on her estranged husband, an ad executive who has suddenly left town on a cross-country road trip. He takes along a beautiful girl he met in a bar and a drifter he picked up along the way. A cop sets out after the husband, but he's more interested in shaking him down than bringing him back."

Kastle masterfully controls his long nightmare journey and you buy into his paranoia. He shows you an American wasteland of truck stops, motels, convenience stores connected by interstate highway and darkness. By book's end everyone will betray everyone else. This is survival of the fittest enacted by a Yuppie businessman, sociopathic hippies and a crooked cop. The sheer nastiness of Kastle's existential vision make this book impossible to forget. Thirty-some years after I first read it I still think of it from time to time when hundreds of other novels have fled from memory.

As a vision of hell, it's a small masterpiece.


Margot Kinberg said...

It sounds so atmospheric, Patti! Stories like that can get under your skin and stay with you - they're haunting.

Jeff Meyerson said...

Wow. Absolutely never heard of this one, though Kastle's name is vaguely familiar.

Todd Mason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Todd Mason said...

And in my premature dotage, I will sometimes conflate H. D. Kastle with younger horror writer Mort Kastle. Always good to see an Ed review.

TracyK said...

That is a great review by Ed Gorman, but definitely not a book I would read.

Todd Mason said...

"Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" and "Rappaccini's Daughter" are the two most famous Hawthorne shorts, I'd say...the former is shorter and witty, while the latter is more's odd I never picked up a copy of TWICE TOLD TALES...I should recify...'s%20Experiment.pdf