Saturday, April 17, 2010

Man on the Run by Charles Williams

Man on the Run by Charles Williams
Gold Medal 822, Copyright 1958

"How much longer could this nightmare go on?"

The story of a man being hunted down for a murder that he didn't commit has been told many times. And the paperback racks of the Fifties were full of them. I know Gold Medal had their share of them. In fact, many of the well known authors of the day used that literary plot a few times in separate novels. Charles Williams was one of those authors and he penned a damn good one in "Man on the Run."

Rain kept falling. The topcoat was soaked now and heavy. I was seized with uncontrollable fits of shaking that lasted for minutes at a time. Whenever I saw a car coming, I dived off the road and hid.

This one starts out of the gate immediately, even before we know what the hell is going down. A man jumps off a train during a heavy rainstorm. He has cops on his tail and he's tired and scared. Rest and shelter from the cold is what he needs, so he sneaks into a small seacoast community and breaks into an empty cottage. Here we learn of his past. His name is Russell Foley, a third mate on an oil tanker. The night before in the town of Sanport he had a vicious fistfight with a police detective that was screwing around with his wife. Five minutes after he leaves the detective's apartment, the copper is found stabbed to death. Guess who everyone on the Florida coast thinks did it? Enter Suzy Patton, the owner of the cottage where Foley is hiding. She's a big beautiful blonde and a writer of romance novels that take place during the Civil War. Suzy believes Foley's story and is willing to help him. (Of all the times I've gotten into trouble, no beautiful blonde appeared to lend me a hand) They fall for each other and together head back to Sanport to find the real killers. But it's not easy, the hunting for Russell Foley never ceases. And to make matters worse, the killers are now out to get him. We find out that murdered police detective was dirty and it all ties into a payroll robbery that occurred a couple of months ago. While trying to clear his name, Foley stumbles into the body of a nude strangled dame in a bathtub and now the cops also think he murdered her. Separated from Suzy because he was almost apprehended, Foley sneaks aboard a old commercial fishing boat to get another lead on the killers. It is here where he gets more that he was bargaining for.

What I like best about "Man on the Run" is that there is no rest, for Foley and the reader. The story is constantly on the move, with the law on Foley's heels from the get go. This just builds more excitement into the plot as he is searching for the killers and always looking over his shoulder. Charles Williams leaves out the character development in this one. It's not needed because of the pace of the novel. Foley is on the outs with his wife, he likes the sailor life and hitting his favorite drinking hole when in port. Suzy Patton comes off as a perplexing and sad character. Her novels don't sell well anymore and she carries around an aura of loneliness. At the end of the novel, Charles Williams displays her cognitive state brilliantly. I like surprises and I didn't expect that.

Add, the wonderful "man against man" brawl between the despite Foley and the killer into the ending, and all I can say is that "Man on the Run" is a direct hit. I escaped into this one and as with most of Charles Williams' novels, I utterly enjoyed it.


mybillcrider said...

This is a favorite of mine, too. I don't know why Williams isn't as famous as some of the other Gold Medal writers because he was one of the best of them all.

dan luft said...

The only thing I ever read by Williams was the one that was made into the movie "Confidentially Yours." The real title was buried inside the copyright page. It wasn't a very good book (or movie) so I never read anything by Williams again. But I keep reading one great thing after another about him. The tough part is that he's gone, he's never reprinted and the old books cost a few.

jvnase said...

I've had THE HOT SPOT sitting around for years. Maybe I'll try that one.

August West said...

"Confidentially Yours" was originally published by Gold Medal as "The Long Saturday Night" in 1962. It's another innocent man being chased by the cops story. I liked it, but "Man on the Run" may be better. I believe I did a post on that novel a while back.

Sadly, Charles Williams took his own life in 1975. I read his last two novels that were written in the early 70s, They are excellent and he seemed to still have gas in the tank.

Anonymous said...

My favorite Williams novel.
Fast, vivid and intense, with a relentless driving pace that stapled me to my chair until I was done with it.
Gold Medals don't get much better.

John Hocking

Frank Loose said...

I love it when someone posts on CW - one of my favorite authors of all time. I echo Bill Crider's remark about Williams being overlooked. IMO you cannot go wrong with anything he wrote, and Man on the Run is as good a place to start as any. Some other flat out great reads are: River Girl, Talk of the Town, Operator, Go Home Stranger, and the Hard Case Crime release A Touch of Death.

He wrote a handful of nautical based books as well, and they are terrific: Dead Calm (became a movie with Nicole Kidman), Aground, Sailcloth Shroud, and my favorite Scorpion Reef, aka Gulf Coast Girl.

Someone new to Williams has some great reading ahead. Thanks for posting on Man on the Run. I really liked how Williams handled the relationship with the gal.

About the only book of his I have not read is The Hot Spot, which was made into a terrific movie and worth renting. Because it is my last Williams, I've been saving it for the right time. From what I've heard and read about it, it might be his best book.

Maybe you could post on it one day, August?

August West said...

Frank: You're right, can't go wrong with any of them. And it's nice to see that a Charles Williams following is still out there.

I'm shocked, A man with your high literary taste hasn't read "Hell Hath No Fury" yet? It's my favorite and I was lucky enough to have read it long before the movie "The Hot Spot" came out. I have a friend who read it after he saw the movie and he didn't think it was Williams' best work. I told him if he read it first, he would have had a different opinion. But that's just my take on it.

Thanks for your comment.

Walker Martin said...

"Hell Hath No Fury" is excellent and I like the film version also(The Hot Spot). You can't go wrong with Charles Williams. Most of his work in quite well done.

Anonymous said...

Another great man on the run book is The Tight Corner by Sam Ross (Signet 1957)


Love Heda said...

good novel also