RUSSELL TURNER – The Short Night. Hillman #103, paperback original, 1957.


   One of the genuine pleasures of grubby old paperbacks is picking up something you never heard of because you like the cover or the set-up on the back, and opening it to discover you are reading a little gem, a happy experience I had with The Short Night, by Russell Turner.

   This is something like a cross between what they call a “tale of Romantic Suspense” and a Gold Medal Original: tough, fast-moving and violent, but when you come right down to it just a story of True Love. Red Dolsan is a middle-aged scout for the Dodgers, recently widowed and just back home after traveling for months who learns in quick succession that he may have fathered a child in a one-night stand with a lonely young woman , and that this child could become the legal heir to a sizable (in 1957) fortune, a turn which would give conniptions to the witchy mother-in-law who caused his wife’s suicide but blames Red for it — frequently and at the top of her voice.

   Red also quickly finds that this ain’t gonna be simple; the lonely young woman has disappeared, and as he starts looking for her he finds himself wading into colorful complications that include threats, small-time crooks, gratuitous violence, a quirky PI, the Feds, and one of the most engaging mysterious ladies I’ve ever come across in crime fiction.

   Turner spins this out neatly, peopling it with bit players who come alive on the page and throwing in suspenseful twists and the occasional slug-fest just to keep it lively. He also evokes a telling picture of the 50s, when a three-room Manhattan apartment with a balcony cost the outrageous sum of $350 a month, a man could be thrown out of Organized Sports for scandalous conduct (like fathering a child out of wedlock) and folks wondered if there was anything to all this talk about cigarettes and cancer. And he paints a picture just as vivid and true of a man who finds himself falling in genuine love — with someone who may be setting him up for blackmail.

   I closed this one with a great deal of satisfaction and ran to the computer to tell everyone about how I had discovered a talented unknown who deserved a bigger, better reputation — only to find that “Russell Turner” was one of the pen names used Leonard S. Zinberg — better known as Ed Lacy!