Friday, August 26, 2022


(from the archives)

Ed Gorman was the author of the Sam McCain and Dev Conrad series of crime novels. He is sorely missed.

Forgotten Books: Charlotte Armstrong Night Call & Other Stories

New from Crippen & Landru

   I first read Charlotte Armstrong after seeing a 1952 movie called "Don't Bother To Knock." The stars were Richard Widmark and Marilyn Monroe. Monroe plays a seriously disturbed young woman asked to babysit the child of Widmark and his wife. Monroe is terrific--terrifying. Will she kill the kid?
   I'd seen the name Charlotte Armstrong on the metal paperback racks. She always seemed to have a new paperback out. And she was in Ellery Queen Magazine a lot. I tracked down Mischief which the Monroe movie was based on and became an Armstrong fan for life.
   If she was not as phantasmagoric as Dorothy B. Hughes sometimes was or as Elizabeth Sanxay Holding almost always was, Armstrong, as a critic recently noted, updated the gothic tropes of the previous generation and made of them tart and contemporary popular art.
  No critic of the time was a bigger promoter of Armstrong's work than Anthony Boucher. He noted that she was the creator of "suburban noir" and he was right.
  Though she used the tropes of what was dismissively called "women's fiction" she took them into a nether realm that was riveting and terrifying.
  Editors Rick Cypert and the late Kirby McCauley have collected here a collection of short and long stories that are a tribute to the Armstrong finesse and darkness.
  None of the pieces here have ever been collected before and there is also unpublished material.
  Everything in the book is packed with excellent storytelling but my favorite has to be the long novelette "Man in The Road") about a "career woman" (yes that was how they were divided from "real women" :) ) who returns home to a small bleak desert town only to find herself accused of a sinister mysterious hit-and-run. I'll pay this the highest compliment I can--this is the kind of twisty crime story Richard Matheson excelled at. It would have been perfect for the long form "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."
  My favorite of the shorter pieces is "The Cool Ones" which concerns the kidnapping of a grandmother and makes as contemporary a statement  as the Flower Power era she wrote it in.
  This is not only a major collection of a major writer  (thanks to Sarah Weinman for bringing so many overlooked women writers back to our attention) but is also the most beautifully jacketed and produced book Crippen & Landru has ever published.   



Jerry House said...

I bow to no one -- except Ed Gorman and Anthony Boucher -- in my appreciation for Charlotte Armstrong. Even her lesser works are good; he other work ranks far above that level. Sadly, Amstrong began to fade from the public view shortly after her death. About fifteen years ago i enthusiasticly recommended her books to a mystery reading group; every member of the group thpught I was talking about Charlotte MacLeod.

Her one published play, RING AROUND ELIZABETH (1941), as by "Char Armstrong", failed for reasons that could have nothing to do with th script when it made it to Broadway. I would love to se it begin to make the rounds at local and regional theaters.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It is a wonder how she could have written so many books and stories and be so forgotten. I have only read one or two of them. Perhaps not hardboiled enough yet not a cozy writer either.

Jeff Meyerson said...

Great review, as usual. I've read every Crippen & Landru book, so of course I've read this. I discovered Armstrong in the mid-'70s and remember her THE UNSUSPECTED (filmed with Claude Rains), MISCHIEF and her excellent, Edgar-winning A DRAM OF POISON.

I think the fact that other than her first three books she didn't write a series may have hurt her, but maybe not.

Jeff Meyerson said...

Just checked my library online and was pleasantly surprised to see they have ebook copies of her first two short story collections; THE ALBATROSS and I SEE YOU, so checked them both out and downloaded them to the Kindle.

Glad to see a lot of her books have been reprinted and the library is getting them/

Jeff Meyerson said...

Well, that was unfortunate. I SEE YOU IS INDEED the book of short stories, but THE ALBATROSS only has the title story, a 100+ page novella, and not the entire collection.

pattinase (abbott) said...

At least you didn't pay for it. Thank God for libraries.

George said...

I've been using Libraries more and more in 2022. Yes, I still buy books, but mostly they are paperbacks that Libraries didn't buy (or won't buy) but are available online for a pittence.

Todd Mason said...

And Robert Arthur didn't overlook her work for his anthologies...I haven't read enough of her work since poring through them...