LAURENCE JANIFER – The Final Fear. Belmont B50-764, paperback original, 1967.

   I read Laurence Janifer’s The Final Fear back in high school, and for some reason it stayed on my shelf all this time, so the other day I decided to take it out and have a re-read after 40+ years. Robert Bloch had some kind words to say about it, so I figured it might be worth another look.


   Well, it’s interesting. Not entirely successful, and I don’t know if I’d recommend it very highly, but it has its moments. The whole thing has kind of a rushed feel to it, starting out with the plot, if you want to cal it that, already underway: the Hero running for his life as the Villain shoots at him on a New York street, with the Heroine and Good Friend yet to make an appearance.

   This is basically a four-character drama, as if Janifer (a busy sci-fi hack in those days) wanted to rush through it without too much bother. It quickly develops that the Hero is Jack Roe, a high school English teacher who had an affair with the Heroine, Madeline, whose husband Edward learned he had only six months to live and decided to kill the man who wrecked his happy home.

   The Good Friend, a police detective, comes in just a bit later, primarily to move the plot along. And that’s pretty much it. Edward shows up and shoots at Jack, who runs away and talks to Madeline for a bit, then Edward shows up, shoots at Jack, who runs away and talks to the cop for a bit, then Edward shows up.

   Somewhere along the way, this acquires an almost poetic simplicity, like a ballad oft-repeated, or a Woolrich tale set in some hostile universe where the price of love is death.

   But it never gets to the level of good writing in any conventional sense. Janifer moves his tale across New York City in the late 60s, when the rotting arcades and crumbling theaters held a sleazy splendor all their own, none of which he evokes here. Instead, he simply runs from one scene to the next: Washington Square, Greenwich Village, the subway, Central Park…

   We go through all this and more, but never with the sense of having been there. His police detective, on the other hand, is pure Woolrich: a patient, thoughtful man with nothing but time on his hands and apparently working a 24-hour shift because he can turn up any time the plot calls for him.

   The Final Fear didn’t give me time to get bored, but somehow it never really grabbed me either.

Editorial Comment:   It’s possible that it’s large enough for you to read it from the cover image provided, but in case it’s not, here’s the blurb from Robert Bloch which I’m sure Belmont has happy to use: “This is more than a suspense novel; it’s a shattering personal experience.”