Who among us has never told a lie? The power of domestic suspense comes from its ability to infuse the everyday with horror, even something as mundane as a little white lie. Few authors are more skilled than Jean Potts at tapping into these anxieties, and The Little Lie (reissued by Stark House) may be her masterpiece. Potts uses a single moment of dishonesty to prod at the many other secrets and lies hidden beneath the surface of small-town life, as one small sin escalates into shocking consequences. Continue reading “Reprint of the Year Nomination 2: The Little Lie”
“It’s terrible when you fasten all your life to a mirage…The worst of it all is when you begin to see the truth—not the truth as the other might have revealed it, but finding it scrap by scrap, little by little. All the time you’re clinging to what you thought was there, and the change, the corruption, is eating it away, and finally there is nothing at all and you think it would be better to die.”
California is a place to reinvent yourself, but what happens when that doesn’t work? When you don’t find what you’re looking for and there’s nowhere left to go? That’s why California noir is the most hopeless. For the characters in Dolores Hitchens’ 1954 novel Beat Back the Tide, California is the end of the line. The gulf between its dazzling promises and what it actually delivers is profound. Everyone has a past they are trying to forget, but, like the tide, it just keeps roaring back. Continue reading “Reprint of the Year Nomination 1: Beat Back the Tide”
“We have a crime of violence and a study in a shambles, and we have a woman who attempted to kill herself a few hours after the murder. What more do you want for an arrest?”
At 5:22 p.m., Dr. Lillian Whitehall was beaten to death in her office. There were four appointments on her calendar that day, along with one final, unscheduled visit—from her killer. Police believe that fifth caller was her office nurse, Hungarian refugee Anna Bardossy. The two women fought earlier that day, and shortly after the murder, Anna was found lying on the beach with her wrists slashed. She says she remembers nothing about the day of the crime.
Continue reading “The Fifth Caller (1959) by Helen Nielsen”
“He hates his wife. He’s not just irritated or bored with her. He hates her. That’s a damned ugly thing.”
Every morning, Shawe Delancey drives to the station, commutes to the office, then comes home again for dinner with his wife. On the surface, his life seems ordinary. The truth is quite different, however. His wife Josephine flies into miserable rages, demanding that he account for every moment of his day. Delancey is driven to the station by a chauffeured limousine paid for by his wife. All day, he sits alone in an office also financed by Josephine, waiting for business that never comes. And every evening, he returns, at the last possible moment, to a lonely house. It’s always just him and Josephine because she has quarreled with all the neighbors.
If only he could be more like his friend Bob Whitestone, with a loving wife like Rosalind. Whitestone seems to have everything a man could want—until the night he shocks Delancey with words that will change both of their lives forever: “I wish to God I could kill her.” Continue reading “The Death Wish (1934) by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding”
“You’ve been living in a house with a murderer. And you’re not even very curious to know who the murderer is.”
The chipmunk and the bird. That’s all Tilly can think of when she sees cousin Sybil and her husband Howard lying unconscious in Sybil’s bedroom. Earlier that day, Tilly’s young son Robert was frightened by a “big boy” who dropped poison into the mouths of a chipmunk and a bird. Tilly thought his story was a figment of his imagination—until Robert showed her the dead animals, laid out side by side. Just like Sibyl and Howard.
The “arrogant and domineering” Sibyl has never been easy to please. As a widow with a small income, Tilly appreciates her cousin’s invitation to spend the summer, but it’s sometimes difficult to accept her role as a poor relation. After Sibyl is killed, however, Tilly discovers herself in a new, and even worse position: murder suspect. Continue reading “Widows Mite (1952) by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding”
“Doesn’t it occur to you that somebody is—well, not telling the truth?”
“Lying,” she specified. “Somebody’s lying.”
It all starts with a white lie. When her boyfriend Chad breaks up with her, Dee Morris is humiliated. To save face, she tells her family and neighbors that he is out of town for a job interview. She assumes the story will eventually peter out on its own. But when outside forces intervene, Dee’s little lie becomes a very big one. How far will she go to protect her reputation? And what will happen when Chad returns? Continue reading “The Little Lie (1968) by Jean Potts”
“Don’t—just spread anything like that around or you’ll find yourself in real trouble.”
“Trouble? What do you think I’m in now?”
Lieutenant Gridley Nelson has never faced a homicide case quite like this one, with a victim who is even more mysterious than the murderer. Wealthy Glen Williams was known as a soft touch, always eager to assist the less fortunate. But where did his money come from? Why did the people he tried to help hate him so much? And why did Williams, in his dying moments, try to shield his killer? Continue reading “Deadlock (1952) by Ruth Fenisong”
“Life is filled with new experiences, but this was one I could have gotten along without. Two dead men in one day is a little hard on the system at best; it makes it sort of rough, when you end up with one of them in the trunk of your car.”
Most men would stop if they saw the luscious Marilyn K. stranded by the side of the road. Sam Russell is no exception. Marilyn’s traveling companion has just been killed in a car crash. He’s a married man, and she doesn’t want to get involved in a scandal. When she begs Sam to drive her to a motel, flashing a suitcase full of cash, it all seems too good to be true…and it is. In the beginning, Sam wants the girl and the money. By morning, he’ll settle for escaping with his life, but it may already be too late. Continue reading “Marilyn K (1960) by Lionel White”
“Listen, baby,” he said. “I don’t think you quite understand. There was a dead man there, a man that I have every reason to believe was murdered. Someone murdered him. And someone saw me there in that house.”
Fairlawn Acres is a typical American suburb, full of average, ordinary families. Howard McNally has a beautiful wife and child, but can’t stop thinking about the teenage babysitter. Len Neilsen stumbles into the wrong house after a drunken dinner with his boss, only to find himself “in a strange house, in a strange bedroom, with a man who was very dead.” He doesn’t even know which house it was, since they all look alike.
And Gerald Tomlinson has just stolen $48,000 from the South Shore Bank in a bloody shootout—money he’s determined to keep by any means necessary. Continue reading “The House Next Door (1956) by Lionel White”
“I know about your kind of man. You’d as soon kill as not. You, and those others in there, you’re all of you alike. All of you cowards and killers.”
The kidnapping went off without a hitch, but pulling a job is one thing; getting away with it is another. Cal Dent has been planning this caper for years and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make a clean getaway—even murder. But the more time he spends around one of his beautiful hostages, the more reluctant he is to let her go. As his perfect scheme starts falling apart, how far will Dent go to save his own skin? Continue reading “The Snatchers (1953) by Lionel White”