Tue 28 Oct 2008
WILLIAM P. McGIVERN – Police Special. Dodd Mead, hardcover, May 1962. Hardcover reprint: Mystery Guild, August 1962.
McGivern had a rich and varied writing career ranging from newspaper work to pulp fiction to crime novels (five of which were made into feature films most notably Odds Against Tomorrow starring Robert Ryan and Harry Belafonte, 1959) to screenplays (the John Wayne film Brannigan, 1975) to TV series scriptwriting (Kojak).
Like many once popular and respected mystery writers from the middle of the last century, McGivern is rarely read today. A review of Police Special (1962), a collection of three of his crime novels, may serve to re-kindle interest in this neglected writer.
Rogue Cop (1954), the first entry in this omnibus, tells the story of once honest but now corrupt Philadelphia cop Mike Carmody and his younger honest cop brother, Eddie. Mike spends the first half of the novel trying to protect Eddie from the murderous thugs who now bankroll his affluent lifestyle.
It becomes clear early on that Mike will ultimately fail to prevent the murder of his brother. The second half of the story follows Mike’s efforts to avenge Eddie by bringing down the guilty criminals. Whether Mike succeeds or not and if so at what cost to himself and others is only revealed in the final chapters.
This is a gripping morality tale filled with menacing scenes and dangerous confrontations worthy of Hammett himself. McGivern believes that we all make countless daily choices to be good or bad, to be brave or cowardly. The decisions we make have consequences and effects far beyond ourselves and the immediate present.
The Seven File (1956) describes a kidnapping from beginning to end. Two of the central characters, as in Rogue Cop, are brothers. Duke Farrell was once a golden boy — strong, smart, athletic but of flawed character.
Hank Farrell, not quite as strong, smart or athletically gifted as his older brother has stayed clear of Duke for many years until the two are brought together by the meticulously planned kidnapping of a wealthy family’s child.
McGivern shows that deeply flawed people are unlikely to carry out even the most perfect of schemes because they will inevitably deviate from the plan due to their own greed, cowardice and poor judgment. Despite numerous setbacks the kidnappers do manage to snatch the child and one must read through to the final chapter to learn of the ultimate outcome of the crime.
McGivern alternates the story’s middle chapters between the kidnapper’s actions and the FBI’s efforts to solve the crime. The chapters featuring the criminals are grippingly menacing and expose their gradual loss of control over events. The FBI chapters painstakingly detail the procedures of a mid-twentieth century kidnapping investigation.
A theme that emerges from McGivern’s storytelling is that most of us are capable of at least one act of courage or one act of mercy, no matter how costly to ourselves, which can turn around a seemingly lost situation. The action takes place mostly in New York City and Maine. The title of the story derives from a code name that the FBI gives to this kidnapping investigation.
The Darkest Hour (1955) shows how corruption on the New York City waterfront affects the lives of those who work on and live near the docks. Steve Retnick returns to Manhattan after serving time for manslaughter. He was a tough but honest cop who crossed the wrong people and was framed for his efforts by some union thugs.
Retnick has seemingly lost everything; his job, his wife and five years of his life so he is hell bent for revenge no matter what the cost to himself or others. Though Retnick believes that all his former friends and co-workers have abandoned him, he still does have some allies and it is those allies who provide the framework for his ultimate salvation — should he choose to use them. As is typical in a McGivern story, there are many gritty confrontation scenes between the various characters.
McGivern’s writing style, subject matter and themes are neither for the fainthearted nor for those seeking a high amount of classic detection. Whether tackling police corruption, political corruption, union corruption or civic corruption, he zeroed in on the weaknesses of society and created compelling crime stories that are still entertaining and meaningful half a century after they were written.
— — —
Additional bibliographic data:
Rogue Cop. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1954. Paperback reprints: Pocket 1030, 1954; Pyramid M3188, 1973; Berkley, 1987.
The Seven File. Dodd Mead, 1956. Paperback reprint: Pocket 1156, 1957, as The #7 File. Also: Berkley, pb, 1989, under the original title.
The Darkest Hour. Dodd Mead, 1955. Also published as: Waterfront Cop, Pocket 1105, paperback, 1956. Also: Berkley, pb, 1988, under the original title.