Sunday, August 29, 2010

Too Many Girls by Don Tracy

Too Many Girls by Don Tracy
Berkley G-182
Copyright 1934

I had a hell of a headache when I woke up.

So starts this brilliant piece of noir fiction about the exploits of an unprincipled Baltimore newspaper photographer. The actual title (hardcover) is Round Trip, which really sums up the road Eddie Magruder goes down. And maybe the point of the first sentence is to inform the reader that the journey of Eddie was one hell of a headache for him but it's a pleasure for us because this one is special.

I forgot all about everything. For a couple of minutes I was back before I'd met Edith and this girl was a good looking pushover and my hands were inside the neck of her dress and giving her the works.

The novel starts with Eddie being sent out on an assignment to snap some photos from the aftermath of a lynching done by Eastern Longshoremen. Here is where we get our introduction of Eddie -tough youth, on is own as a teen, learning the ways of women from the streets, and consuming plenty of booze. The novel then turns into a flashback as Eddie tells us about the events in his life during the last few years. There is the suicide of a female newspaper reporter that he had final contact with and he seems indifferent about. Eddie has the moral nature of a heel with just a snip of compassion. He is willing to earn a few extra bucks taking "dirty"photos for distributors or receiving special favors from women for taking high quality shots so they can get public notice. But that changes when he meets and marries Edith. Eddie finally finds felicity and worth in his life. But the road he is given to go down, isn't level. In a fistfight, Eddie kills Edith's abusive ex-husband and he has to stand trial for manslaughter. It becomes an emotional ordeal for both Edith and Eddie. But after the acquittal, all the despair ends and there is a return to a life of contentment. Of course, Fate stacks the cards against a guy like Eddie and in the end it really crashes down on him.

I thought to myself that if they sent me up, I still had a hell of a lot to be glad about. I was a bum when I met Edith and now I wasn't a bum. I was up for killing a guy but I'd done it the right way.

Block out the meaningless title the paperback publishers gave this one, Round Trip is a monolithic hardboiled novel. In Eddie Magruder's world, happiness only gets touched, never embraced. He doesn't self-destruct or have ambitions that lead him down a wanton alley, Eddie is stuck and will forever be because guys like him are always destined to be lured up and knocked down. It's just the way life is....

James M. Cain wasn't the only one reshaping raw and gritty noir tales in the 30s. Don Tracy was also right there, he just never got the notoriety that Cain did. A fine example is Round Trip, this tragic novel stands pretty tall with what others were bring to the table at that time. With the exception of Edith's Ex-husband, there are really no evil people in the novel. Most are disillusioned souls lumbering in depression-era Americana and working for a niche in life. With Eddie being swallowed up in all of it. This novel predates Horace McCoy's They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and Gresham's Nightmare Alley and Richard Hallas' You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up, and I'd put Round Trip right up there with them.

A memorable novel. I won't forget this one.
It's one of the best that I've read.


mybillcrider said...

Tracy's one of those underrated guys who should be a lot better known.

Frank Loose said...

I loved Don Tracy's CRISS-CROSS. The book is ten times better than the movie, and the movie ain't bad. On the strength of it, i read something else he wrote, but didn't care for it. Can't recall the title right now. Took place in Europe after the war.

I'll be tracking down a copy of TOO MANY GIRLS, urged on by your excellent review.