An Eye For An Eye by Leigh Brackett
Bantam A2308, Copyright 1957
My introduction to the work of Leigh Brackett started by reading her pulp mystery short stories. After being knocked out by those, I had to read her first book, "No Good from a Corpse." The history around that novel and it's influence on director Howard Hawks is widely known. She wrote five crime novels, all masterfully written and hardboiled. In "An Eye for An Eye," Leigh Brackett gives us a psychological thriller that has a creepy bite to it.
Al said, "We got a little business to do between us, Forbes. I want you to listen and listen good and careful, because I'd rather have my wife living than your wife dead."
Lawyer Ben Forbes is waiting for his wife to pick him up from the office, time passes and Carolyn doesn’t show up. Worried, he heads home and quickly discovers that she has vanished. Cop Ernie MacGrath, a neighbor and friend of Forbes, gets involved with the missing persons case. A few days go by without anything turning up, when Forbes gets a phone call from the man who kidnapped her. His name is Al Guthrie and we learn that Forbes was the lawyer for Guthrie’s wife Lorene during their hostile divorce. Al Guthrie is a violent and unstable man, who has a history of abuse towards Lorene. Guthrie tells Forbes that he is going pay for taking his Lorene away, and then offers the lawyer a deal; convince Lorene to come back to him and Forbes will get his own wife back. Guthrie makes it clear that Carolyn will be killed if the cops are told about him, the kidnapping, or the exchange of the women. Guthrie gives him four days to convince Lorene to return to him. His hate for Forbes is so intense, that he plans to kill him during the exchange. Panic and fear escalates, as Forbes is thrown into a nightmare ordeal. He secretly attempts to locate his wife by himself, he makes some progress and then stumbles. This results into getting Lorene totally terrified, she fears Guthrie will kill her and now Ernie MacGrath is suspicious of Forbes because of his erratic behavior. Finally Ben Forbes has an emotional breakdown and he tells the cops what has happened to his wife. Irate at him for wasting valuable time, the police struggle to formulate a plan for the rescue of Carolyn. But first they have to locate where she is being held and little time is left.
Ben Forbes is on a downward slide, and through him Leigh Brackett takes us on this hellish journey. The strain is too much for Forbes, he mentally tumbles and is left tattered as we move through the pages. This is a fast paced novel, with events unfolding after every turn of the page. It’s a race and the author keeps us in doubt as to how it will turn out. An interesting character in the story is Lorene, a girl who finally finds contentment and freedom, and then after one visit by Forbes she is whirled back into a world of fear and panic. Leigh Brackett writes some of the best dialog through her and we feel her pain (which is almost torture) as she spirals into a child-like state. And then there is the mind of Al Guthrie, a confused violent man who lost reality and hungers for the return of Lorene. The psychological strains of Forbes, Lorene and Guthrie intertwine in the story, which gives the novel a dark, eerie texture. This is enhanced by the disconsolate feel of the story, which takes place during the dreary, empty, cold days of November. The kidnapping and captivity scenes are descriptively raw for it’s time, Guthrie treats Forbes’ wife quite horribly. And the ending is highly climatic, as Leigh Brackett takes us back into the thoughts and actions of Al Guthrie for the final paragraphs.
A skillfully written crime novel, full of bleak terror and arousing suspense.
I savored the bits of Brackett’s hardboiled dialog that appear in the story. "The dame had a voice like a hack saw and she didn't care who heard it." There are numerous little gems like these throughout the novel.
Doubleday Crime Club
Friday, September 12, 2008
An Eye For An Eye by Leigh Brackett