ED LACY – The Woman Aroused. Avon #324, paperback original, 1951. Black Curtain Press, hardcover/paperback, 2013.

   This one left me with a creepy feeling.

   Ed Lacy remains one of the lesser-sung masters of two-bit prose, but he’s ripe for more attention, and this paperback original shows him at the top of his form.

   George Jackson starts the book as a comfortable executive in an on-again-off-again relationship with his ex-wife, and before the tale is finished, he’s lost most of his friends and living in cheap rooming houses. That’s not how he ends up, but I don’t give away endings.

   Lacy builds the story masterfully, using his familiarity with New York City and especially Harlem to good effect. After a bit of first-person exposition, detailing his life and establishing his character without getting bogged down in it, the story proper kicks off: George is visited by an old friend, just out of the Army, who asks him to hold seven thousand in cash money for him. It seems his old friend is planning to split from his wife, Lee — evil incarnate and then some, he says — and needs to keep this where she can’t get her hands on it. After hemming, hawing and insisting on giving him an IOU for it, George agrees. And a few pages later his buddy is dead under suspicious circumstances.

   A fine hook for a story, that, and Lacy works it well. Of course George lets his curiosity get he better of him, and looks up the newly-widowed lady in question, and I have to say the character of the predatory Lee is completely unlike any femme fatale I’ve ever read before — another surprise I won’t spoil for you. But it won’t ruin the story if I tell you George quickly and predictably gets ensnared, and the IOU he insisted on starts looking like his ticket to Death Row.

   But this is much more than a thriller; it’s a chiller, mainly because Lacy takes the time to develop his supporting players. Lee gets a moving back story, George’s ex-wife moves into the thing very effectively, his quiet upstairs neighbor, paranoid brother-in-law, loud-mouth buddy, and even his cat, all come alive and play very real parts in a story that packs a real surprise ending.

   Maybe it was Lacy’s deft handling of all this that made The Woman Aroused so creepy for me. I just know that when I read THE END I felt as if he had dragged me through Hell right along with him.