Friday, June 3, 2016
FFB: The Snatchers by Lionel White
The Snatchers is one of those stories, only this time the caper is the kidnapping of a little girl, the child of a wealthy Connecticut family.
Cal Dent, a hard, 33-year-old ex con, works out every detail of the kidnapping. His problems come when the team he assembles, Red, a dim ex-boxer, Pearl, a boozy tough cookie, Gino, a violent gangster, and Fats, a conniving trigger man, do not follow Dent’s plans to the letter. Their petty jealousies, hates and lusts lead them astray and put the plan in jeopardy.
Much of the book takes place in a beach cottage where the gang hides out while waiting for ransom money to be delivered. The close living gets on everyone’s nerves. To make matters worse, a small town cop seeing people come and go from the cottage begins to snoop around, heightening the tension. White keeps the whole thing moving at a terrific clip with twits and dangers in every chapter.
Lionel White was a newspaper reporter in the 1920s and 30s, became and editor and went on to edit detective magazines in the 1940s and 50s. He published his first novel in 1952, when he was pushing 50 years old. He went on to write 38 novels. His most well known book is probably Clean Break, later re-titled The Killing. The Snatchers, from 1953, is his second novel.
In his book about director Stanley Kubrick, The Wolf at the Door, Geoffrey Cocks said Kubrick, in the mid-1950s, tried to make a film of The Snatchers, but the Hollywood production code rejected the script he prepared with Jim Thompson. In 1956, Kubrick released one of his best films, “The Killing,” based on Clean Break, from a script written by Thompson. The Snatchers was later filmed in 1968 as “The Night of the Following Day,” starring Marlon Brando.
Now, a few notes on my copy of The Snatchers. Last month, in a little shop of used books I get to a couple times a year, there was a thin, tattered edition of this book squeezed onto a shelf of far newer books. The spine was broken, the pages, and even whole sections were falling out. The lady at the counter looked it over and said she could only charge me 25 cents for an old book in such bad shape.
The cover of this copy is the one pictured and was probably done in the late 1950s, judging by the fins and tail lights on that car. Reading the text, I came to believe the book was edited for British readers. The clues were spellings like programme when describing a radio broadcast, and colour for color, and a word like windscreen during a tense scene involving a windshield wiper that would not function in a rainstorm.
And for the critics who jump on errors in new novels and digital texts, I will just point that this decades-old Avon edition of The Snatchers had several goofs. One of them was a doozy. The name of a character not in a scene was assigned to a line of dialogue.
But The Snatchers is such a tight, well paced novel that a few glitches in its roughly 60,000 words can be forgiven.
This book is a must read for fans of hard boiled crime stories.
(For more forgotten books, please see Patti Abbott’s blog.)
Posted by Elgin Bleecker at 9:28 AM
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I had forgotten about the movie adaptation of this until you mentioned it but I think it is quite weird! Mind you, saw it once over 30 years ago, so ...ReplyDelete
Sergio – I have not seen the Brando movie. I need to look for it. But I can’t imagine that it would be as good as the book. And I wonder what Kubrick’s film of THE SNATCHERS would have been like? His THE KILLING is great.Delete
For reason unknown, that cover looks quite familiar. The taillights look like a late 1960s Mercury Comet, but it's the teddy bear I remember. So, who is the character the reader pulls for here? The cop, the kidnapper, the girl? I may have to find a copy.ReplyDelete
Richard – Thanks for the comments. I will ask a buddy of mine, a guy who really knows cars, to check out those taillights and ID the make and model. The skill of Lionel White’s storytelling is that he will get you rooting for Cal Dent and hoping his plan will work. White will also make you nervous every time the cop appears.Delete
Richard – You were right. My pal said it looks like a 1961 Mercury Comet. Pictures on the web show a rear view of it that looks just like the book cover. I also saw that this Avon edition of the novel came out in 1961.Delete
I have this book but have yet to read it. I have, however, seen the movie version with Marlon Brando and Rita Moreno (both with dyed blond hair) in the roles of the kidnappers and poor Pamela Franklin as the victim. A very odd adaptation with some ridiculous dialogue much of it is very hard to follow. I'm sure the book is much better. The performances are just plain strange. Sergio is right on the money when I he calls it "quite weird." Reading about the making of the movie is even more fascinating knowing that Brando and Moreno were lovers on the verge of a nasty break-up at the time. Apparently Pamela Franklin had a dreadful time making the movie. Brando was unbearable, very cruel, mocking of the director, and often showed up drunk on the set. Franklin's few scenes show real terror in her eyes. That's not acting I can tell you.ReplyDelete
John – Your comments, and Sergio’s, sent me to YouTube to see if there was anything on NIGHT OF THE FOLLOWING DAY. There are a couple of clips with Brando looking like he could care less about the film, his performance or anything else. Richard Boone and Rita Moreno are in the picture, which might just make it watchable, but I’m not sure. From the clips, the movie does not bear much resemblance to the book. Hope you get around to reading White’s novel.Delete
I do like the sound of this one Elgin. I have a couple of books from White, but definitely not this one. I'll see if I can track it down, cheers. I'm probably not too fussed about the film. A steal at 25 cents!ReplyDelete
Col - I think you will like this one. White is your kind of author. And at a quarter this one was a steal, even if it did fall apart in my hands as I read it.Delete
Elgin, I have read and enjoyed a couple of Lionel White's caper novels. I found his plotting very focused. I have been looking around for his other paperbacks.ReplyDelete
Prashant – White’s old paperbacks are hard to find. I was lucky to get this one, even if it was in bad shape. I hope a publisher re-issues his old books. He is worth reading.Delete