Sunday, January 29, 2023

Strange Witness (Day Keene, 1953)

It opens promisingly. Instead of the classic "You'll be back" lines that the prison warden always uses for bidding farewell to the released inmate, in this one, our hero promises that he'll be back. What a badass! And yes, ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts - the name of the game will be revenge!

Well,... a few chapters into this snooze fest, you can safely unfasten them. Strange Witness turns into yet another plain framed-man-on-the-run story. There's a couple of things that were probably supposed to make it a bit special, but neither really works. Our guy is not alone on his run as he needs to protect some kid - the titular strange witness. Which could be cool in case little Greta was some sharp, witty teenager. Instead, she keeps whining and is a general nuisance to both him and the reader. The second unusual touch is our hero's profession. He is a ventriloquist, but he mainly uses his skill to entertain the brat by making her stuffed rabbit talk.

These are just some of the problems. Our hero is dull, the bad guys are as two-dimensional and stereotypical as they get (yes - the main villain is a fat owner of some fancy nightclub), the dialogues are lifeless, and the romantic angle requires all of the suspension of belief that you're willing to give.

The premise of a kid witnessing a murder is not bad at all. But the whole thing is 190 pages long, and there's no actual story development or tension build-up. Hardly a page-turner...

One just never knows with Keene. None of his stuff is terrible, and some is brilliant. I think this is the first one of his that I'm just gonna file in my memory as simply forgettable.



So he'd been a high-priced M.C. and ventriloquist. That came under the heading of talent. All he was was a regular Joe, not any smarter than the average guy on the street, not half as smart as some.

Thelma, a healthy ex-gun moll with a concave stomach:

Jackson stood enjoying his cigar, admiring her. She was, he judged, in her early or middle twenties. Her stomach was concave. She was slim flanked and full breasted. Her legs were long and shapely. There was an aura of health about her. 


Body count:

Not counting Jackson's kid brother Jerry who got shot down over Korea (flying a saber jet!) and not counting the main bad guy even though "Sovereign State of Illinois will take care of the matter, ... Id' say six months from now".

But I'm including some hapless cabbie who dies in his taxi after a car chase ends with a crash. A bit weird because there's a corrupt lawyer in that taxi who dies too, but another passenger - a bad guy's henchman - survives and gets away with a broken arm. I have nothing against lawyers dying, but wtf is this collateral death of the innocent working-class guy!?

The object of desire:
To kill Flip Evans or not? That was the question.

Jackson is incredibly durable. He gets slapped around from the get-go, and it takes two pages of beating that includes spiking him where it hurt the most with the high French heel for him to finally lose his consciousness:

A wave of pain reached up and engulfed Jackson. He thought: As a gunman I'm a damn good ventriloquist.
Then the wave carried him down into a cool green depth and everything was silence.

He blacks out one more time, but we don't get to know any details on this occasion. After yet another beating that concludes one chapter, another one simply begins with:

With returning consciousness, he knew panic. He thought: The bastards. They've buried me.

How was I to know the brat was in the office? I damn near died when I turned around and seen her standing there holding that damn stuffed rabbit.

A Graphic Original #58

Not bad. It would be even better if the blonde held a gun. But her facial expression is cool. She does look a bit amused about the killing happening in the other room, doesn't she? 

Cool lines:
"If you only knew how I love you, Flip."
"Love me?" the fat man puzzled.
"Yeah," Lieutenant McCreary told him. "You're a new Buick, eight hundred more a year and an up-in-rank to me."

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