ROY HUGGINS too Late for Tears

ROY HUGGINS – Too Late for Tears. Pocket 602, 1st paperback printing, 1949. Hardcover: William Morrow, July 1947. Hardcover reprint: Detective Book Club, Oct 1947. Previously serialized in The Saturday Evening Post, April-May 1947. Movie version: United Artists, 1949; Roy Huggins, screenplay; with Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea, Don DeFore, Arthur Kennedy, Kristine Miller.

   The first couple of paragraphs reminded me immediately of Raymond Chandler:

   It was like almost any southern California night, a frostbitten moon high and withdrawn among a few reluctant stars, a cool salt breeze blowing in from the sea and sweetening through the odor of brush fires in the hills.

   The open convertible rolled to a slow stop and the man stepped out and closed the door. The woman sat, not moving, staring out across the endless horizontal monotony of the Valley. He leaned over and asked if she had gone to sleep, the tone carrying the suggestion of banter, timidly, as if he were uncertain of its reception.

   They are married, Alan and Jane Palmer, and they are soon quarreling, before fate steps in their way. Barreling down the hills with the headlights accidentally turned off, a car going the other way tosses a small bag into their car, changing both of their lives forever.

ROY HUGGINS too Late for Tears

   It’s full of money. Jane thinks they should keep it. Alan, who works for a bank, is much more cautious, but he is convinced by Jane to wait a week and see if anything appears in the newspapers about stolen money. Once he has checked the bag in a locker at the train station, however, events have been put into place that can not be reversed.

   From page 16:

    “What do you want to do with it, Alan?”

    His face twisted. “I don’t know. I want it, I’d like to keep it, I could make it work for us for the rest of our lives… But it’s a rat race, Jane. A damned blind alley with a big barred gate at the end!”

    “Darling, we can hide it, someplace where no one can connect us with it. And we won’t touch it until we know we can do it, until we know we are safe and we’ve worked out every tiny detail. If we can’t do it, we’ll just forget it! We could even let the police know where it was in some way, so it wouldn’t be wasted.”

   His face was dark and his eyes were bright. She could feel the heat of him against her. It was a long time before he answered. “All right, Jane. God help us, but we’ll hold it for a while.”

   She raised her shoulders and put her lips against his. They were hot and his breath was hot and she was lifted and caught up tightly. And there was something both understood in the same swift flight; that this was new, that there was something now they hadn’t had before, deeper, richer, drawing them close. And only Jane knew that it was compounded of need and isolation and fear.

ROY HUGGINS Too Late for Tears

   From Chandler, then, to a slick combination of Cornell Woolrich and James M. Cain, with some variations on the theme by Roy Huggins himself. Other characters have roles to play. Alan’s sister Kathy has an apartment a few doors down; Danny Fuller, the small time hood for whom the money was intended, naturally makes a quick appearance; and the mysterious Don Blake, who claims to have been a wartime buddy of Alan, makes an uneasy alliance with Kathy.

   It doesn’t work completely, but hitting on 15 of 16 cylinders at high speed is a pretty good percentage. If there is such a thing as noir fiction, this is it, and it’s top notch.

PostScript:   The reason for the last statement, and I could be wrong, is that I take noir to be a film term, not a book-related one. I wish I could remember seeing the movie, but I can’t. If it follows the story-line of the book at all, and with the cast it has, I know it would be tough to forget if I had.

— February 2004

[UPDATE] 03-02-13. Well, I hadn’t seen the movie when I wrote this review, but I have since, and I’ve even posted my comments here on this blog, way back in 2009. I liked the movie as much as I did the book, as you can go read for yourself.