Sunday, July 22, 2012

60. The Long Dark Night by Joseph Hayes

One more sign that I am truly blessed is that Dark Carnival, one of the better sci-fi, fantasy and mystery bookstores in North America, is literally a block and a half from my parents's house.  It's kind of insane and became a regular haunt for me during my 3 months in California.  If I got back from work early enough, I would often park my bike outside and lurk in the back room where the used books are.  The store is overstocked, with new books stacked on the floor (though stacked somewhat neatly).  The back section was quite a mess, with bottom shelves of used books being inaccessible due to piles of books and toys.   But slowly over the summer, one of the employees was hitting it hard, working on cleaning it up and near the end of my trip the back section got in better and better order until I could actually reach the bottom shelves (one of which carried the letter C where I was desperately hoping to stumble upon a lost John Christopher; no such luck).  I did find this Joseph Hayes book, which I had never heard about before, but which had a very intriguing premise:  a young man falsely accused of rape in a small New England town plots his brutal revenge against the entire town.  It was written in 74 and the paperback was published in best-seller rather than a crime or mystery format.  There is rape mentioned in the blurb and a lot of other sensational stuff, so it could have gone either way and perhaps just been a lurid titillating mass market book.  However, I know of Joseph Hayes having read The Desperate Hours and really enjoying it.  That was written 2 decades earlier, but the initial prose seemed solid, so I picked it up.

Turns out to have been a good choice.  This book is definitely hardcore and even has some situations that would put it well into the lurid category. However, they are all done off-camera and referred to rather than spread out before the reader's eyes.  The story is great.  A young, poor hard-working student, Boyd Ritchie, comes from the midwest to this patrician New England town on a scholarship.  He's there for half a school year before he gets mixed up with the town beauty, who is betrothed to the town scion, but who also is a big slut.  A situation happens where the girl accuses Boyd of rape to protect her own reputation.  He gets caught, brutalized by the sociopathic chief of police (an ex-Texas Ranger, disgraced for killing a suspect in his old job), then convinced to plea bargain and then screwed over by the judge.  In prison, he gets further brutalized and something snaps, so that he spends the rest of the time planning his revenge on the entire town.  The book is the entire night of his revenge.

This is good, gripping, nasty stuff.  The plan is complex and seeing its execution, while learning through flashbacks and the ensuing investigation how he prepared for it is really enjoyable.   Watching it (and Boyd himself) unravel while the "good" guys start to figure out what is going on is also a great pleasure.  This is one of those books that is perfect for a long plane ride, easy to digest, with lots of short segments jumping from character to character.  The last third goes on a bit long as we get slightly bogged down in some family relationships (and how the crisis tests marriages and childrens' love for their parents) .  Overall, though, a great summer thriller read.

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