Mystery Thursday: Remembered Book of the Week

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The first morning when I showed up on the lot he called me into the office and wanted me to go out in the country and repossess a car.

“I’m tired of fooling with that bird,” he said. “So don’t take any argument. Bring the car in.”

And so begins this week’s Remembered Book of the Week: Charles Williams’s 1953 unadulterated noir, The Hot Spot. Harry, the newest employee at a used car lot in a small Texas town is not exactly a model citizen. Prone to temptation and down on his luck, Harry is just trying to get ahead in life, preferably the easy way. Soon, he falls (literally) into the laps of two very different but equally dangerous femme fatales, gets involved way over his head in a bank robbery, and is plotting a possible murder. With the stakes rising and Harry losing control, it will be a miracle if he survives.

The novel depicts perfectly the stifling atmosphere of small-town USA. Nosy citizens watch each other suspiciously from their stoops, before ducking into local dives on the edge of town to gossip. The Hot Spot is a wonderful example of 1950s noir at its best: humorous, exciting, and well-written with a protagonist that just can’t seem to get things right. 

Originally published as Hell Hath No Fury, The Hot Spot became the first paperback original to be reviewed by legendary New York Times critic Anthony Boucher. However, many feel Williams never received the credit he deserved. “Charles Williams remains the best-kept secret in (what’s now being called) noir fiction,” said Max Allan Collins, author of Road to Perdition

In 1990, Dennis Hopper directed a great neo-noir film under the same name, starring Don Johnson, with Virginia Madsen and Jennifer Connelly as the two dames. Although the movie received mixed reviews, it’s respected for staying true to the genre. The soundtrack, however, is undeniably marvelous. To get in the mood, start playing some John Lee Hooker, Miles Davis, and Taj Mahal, then download the new ebook and get to know one of crime fiction’s best-kept secrets: the talented Charles Williams

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