A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Max Allan Collins

ELLIOT CHAZE – Black Wings Has My Angel. Gold Medal #296, paperback original, 1953. Stark House Press, trade paperback, 2012 (published with One Is a Lonely Number by Bruce Elliott) New York Review of Books, trade paperback, 2016. Reprnited earlier as One for the Money (Berkley Y658, paperback, 1962).

   The reputation of Black Wings Has My Angel as the quintessential Gold Medal paperback is deserved. It has everything that made these originals so good: a fast-moving story, sex, and fine descriptive writing.

   Escaped con Tim Sunblade (an alias chosen after his jailbreak, “because it smells of the out of doors”) is resting up after rough-necking on a drilling rig.  In a small hotel in a little fishing village on the Atchafayala, he encounters Virginia, a beautiful prostitute whose $!0-a-night fee causes him to guess rightly that she, too, is keeping a low profile; soon he finds she is a high-priced call girl on the run. Virginia seems aloof, even cold, but the two pair off.

   When Tim tries to ditch her. only to discover she has anticipated him and stolen his money, they reteam and Virginia’s passion bubbles to the surface. Camping out in the mountains in Colorado, Tim decides Virginia has what it takes to help him pull off an armored-car job. They move to Denver and set up a respectable front,. renting a house, Tim working another hard labor job, as the robbery is meticulously planned, and then carried out.

   Bu1 Chaze’s antihero 1s too complex to be described simply as amoral; his immoral deeds haunt him in a manner an amoral individual would shrug off. A murder he’s committed calls at him as he and Virginia slide into a rich, decadent life-style in New Orleans. Soon Tim is pulled obsessively into his respectable past, for a brief, violent layover in his small hometown, before the couple ride out an even deeper, darker compulsion: to look into a certain abandoned mine shaft, to stare into the darkness that is death.

   Gold Medal originals were often James M. Cain pastiches, and Chaze’s novel is one of the best – far better than the novels Cain himself was writing at the time, Chaze’s bleak social satire – the working and upper classes arc shown to be equally venal – helps keep Tim’s actions understandable and even sympathetic. The swift, compelling, natural-sounding first-person narration is marked by quietly vivid images (“She was lying on the sleeping bag in the sun, as slim and bare as a sword”).

   Black Wings Has My Angel (reprinted as One for the Money, Berkley, 1962) is an early work, and would seem to promise a major career in the genre for Chaze. But Cbaze, a newspaperman, has published novels only occasionally, and not always in the suspense field, In Chaze’s recent mystery series about newsman Kiel St. James, the promise of his Gold Medal original is not kept: Mr. Yesterday (1984) is haphazardly plotted, an unconvincing structure that collapses upon its interesting characters and well-drawn southern setting.

Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.