Monday, September 15, 2008

The Night Watch by Thomas Walsh

The Night Watch by Thomas Walsh
Little, Brown and Company
Hardcover Ed., Copyright 1951

I love rogue cop stories. Whether the cop is a decent guy who turns bad or just a natural bad egg who uses his police authority for his own personal gain, the stories have a gritty social breach feel to them. The ones written in the 40s & 50s were always noirish, with dirty alleyways, lonely street lamps, and dark cold nights. I read short stories by Thomas Walsh, but never one of his novels. When I heard that the storyline of "The Night Watch" dealt with a "dirty" cop, I dug the novel out.

"So we get the truth now," Ahern said, narrowing his eyes tiredly. "What you really did it for. Not for me. For that money."

Originally serialized in the Saturday Evening Post, the novel starts with three detectives assigned to a stakeout job. Ritchie McCallister is the young clean honest one, who feels compelled to look after his partner Paddy Ahern. Ahern is an average cop, who has a habit of taking a nip from the bottle at times. Walter Sheridan is the third detective. He's a wise ass, who only looks out for himself. The stakeout is the apartment of a bank robber's wife. One night the robber returns, and Sheridan and Ahern nab him. The guy has the money with him, so Sheridan kills him making it look like self defense. He's really after the cash, and he convinces Ahern he's doing this to protect him. Sheridan throws the body along with the loot into the trunk, with plans to retrieve it after the night is over. Things go quickly wrong for Sheridan and after a failed attempt to silence a female witness, he ends up killing Ahern. The second half of the novel involves the manhunt for Sheridan. McCallister, distraught over Ahern's death and the attempt to kill an innocent girl, stalks Sheridan throughout the apartment development area with the assistance of other policemen. We get an efficient behind the scenes look at a 1950s police manhunt operation, as Sheridan becomes trapped. This portion of the novel is excellent and really builds up to an exciting ending. In the last hours, it's good vs. evil between McCallister and Sheridan. And in these stories the fate of the rogue cop is always known.

I liked the novel. It took a few pages for me to get the flow of Walsh's writing style, (especially the dialog) but I quickly adapted to it. With the exception of the first few introduction pages, the story takes place in one night. We go back and forth between the characters, getting each ones thoughts and actions. I liked the way this worked, it gave the novel a documentary feel. Sheridan is a guy you don't like from the start, but I wasn't expecting him to turn diabolical. McCallister is our detective hero and a romantic relationship develops between him and the girl. Ahern is the cop we feel sorry for, caught in an event that he never wanted. His death in the novel is extraordinarily written, and one of the best death scenes I read in a long time.

Although I read better rogue cop novels, this one is damn good. It was used as the basis for the 1954 film "Pushover," which starred Fred MacMurray and Kim Novak. Throughout his career, Thomas Walsh wrote a ton of short stories for mystery magazines. In 1950, he wrote his first novel "Nightmare in Manhattan" and won the Edgar for Best First Mystery Novel. His bibliography consists of eleven novels:

Nightmare in Manhattan (1950)
The Night Watch (1952)
The Dark Window (1956)
Dangerous Passenger (1959)
The Eye of the Needle (1961)
A Thief in the Night (1962)
To Hide A Rogue (1964)
The Tenth Point (1965)
The Resurrection Man (1966)
The Face of the Enemy (1966)
The Action of the Tiger (1968)

Bantam 1150
paperback edition


Frank Loose said...

August ... Three other "bad cop" books that i liked are: Harry Whittington's Forgive Me Killer, Lionel White's The Money Trap, and the best bad cop book that i have read: Johathan Craig's Renegade Cop. I believe it was fiirst published in 1954 under the name Alley Girl. Talk about a sociopath with a badge, the cop, Steve Lambert, is cruel and relentless. Craig paints a chilling portrait of a truly despicable man. Strong, solid read. --- Frank

August West said...

So right about "Renegade Cop" my favorite Jonathan Craig book. Tough and mean stuff. "The Money Trap" was just damn good literature. I never read anything average by Lionel White-always top quality...

One of the best books I read this year was a "rogue cop" novel, William Stuart's "Night Cry"
Still can't get that book out of my head...