Friday, October 11, 2019
The Darkest Hour by William P. McGivern
The book fits squarely into the noir category as an urban crime novel set mostly at night on the cold, dark streets along New York City’s waterfront, with a damaged and angry main character.
Steve Retnick used to be a good guy and a good cop who was promoted to detective at a young age. But gangsters framed him for the killing of a dock worker and Retnick spent five years in Sing Sing prison.
When the book opens, Retnick is out of the can and back in the city, using his street-smarts and detective skills to find the real killer and administer a little of his own justice on the men who set him up.
Retnick inflicts some physical punishment on thugs who deserve it, but he also puts innocent people in harm’s way. He knows what he wants and he also knows he is doing wrong. He has been warned off by his former police supervisor, but he presses on. This kind of destructive obsession is real noir territory.
A man who can give him the proof he needs to nail the hitman and his boss, is killed just as Retnick returns to the old neighborhood. The boss is a local gangster who is muscling his way into a dock-workers’ union.
McGivern’s story, despite an authenticity in the location, the people and the way things work on the waterfront, has a few weak spots, mostly in the subplot concerning Steve Retnick’s bitterness toward his wife, who did him dirt while he was in the joint.
Overall, The Darkest Hour (also called Waterfront Cop), is another good yarn from an author who was on a hot streak in the 1950s. Some of the other books McGivern published in that decade were: Shield for Murder (1951); Blondes Die Young (1952); The Crooked Frame (1952); Margin for Terror (1953); The Big Heat (1953); Rogue Cop (1954); Night Extra (1957); Odds Against Tomorrow (1957); and Savage Streets (1959).
William P. McGivern worked as a newspaper reporter and also wrote many short stories for the pulps. He served in the Army during World War II. After the war he turned to novel writing. In the 1960s and 1970s, he wrote for the movies and television, while continuing to turn out books. He died in 1982 at age 63.
(For more posts on books, head over to Todd Mason’s blog.)
(Also, check out my crime novel, Lyme Depot. Thanks.)