It was Monday morning when Al Jackson drove into Willow Creek, a hot, dusty little Midwest farm town. Twenty-four hours later, Grace Amons, a local waitress – unmarried and pregnant – was found murdered; Al Jackson, who had inflicted nothing worse on her than a few old jokes, was accused of rape and murder; and an ingenious young killer was stirring up the townspeople to make sure that the accused man never reached a courtroom alive.
My first time trying out this author and it was an enjoyable first outing for me. James McKimmey was an American author that never figured on my radar until Scottish author and publisher Allan Guthrie interviewed him back in the early 2000’s. It’s an interesting interview and is available online in a couple of parts. (Part 1, part 2) Guthrie is a bit of an aficionado when it comes noir fiction and had initially compiled a list of 100 recommended noirs which I was trying to work my way through. I can’t say I was too impressed when he subsequently re-jigged his list and expanded it to 200 titles!
In the revised version of his list, eight of McKimmey’s books figure; The Perfect Victim (1958), Cornered (1960), 24 Hours to Kill, The Wrong Ones, The Long Ride (all 1961), Squeeze Play (1962), Run if You’re Guilty (1963) and Blue Mascara Tears (1965). From the little bit of detail I can find online about the author he passed away in 2011, at the age of 88. He also wrote science fiction and I believe some of his stuff is available online at Munsey’s.
The Perfect Victim takes us to a hick town in America, Willow Creek, population of 1500. We meet the victim Grace Amons – a waitress, the local lads, the sheriff, his deputy, the newspaperman, the doctor, the college boy, Roger and his out of town Hollywood friend – Buggie Alstair. Into the mix comes a travelling salesman, Al Jackson.
Grace is the local beauty and she’s perfectly aware of her charms and the affect they have on the local populace. She can joke around with the locals, but when our own of towner makes a clumsy play, he’s immediately alienated some of the townsfolk. When Grace turns up dead a day later, Jackson is an immediate suspect and the perfect fall guy.
As readers we know how Grace died and we know who is responsible. What follows next is interesting as we see our real killer manipulate the populace into a frenzy, thirsting for vengeance. Common sense, decency and all rational thought, gives way to a lynching party mentality, with the lone voices of reason swallowed up by the screaming of the mob. McKimmey ratchets up the tension until the end. Can Jackson be saved and the town re-discover reason and its conscience or will the bloodlust win out.
Really enjoyable, with an interesting mix of characters about who we learn plenty - how life in an isolated small town fifty years ago can play out….how the community rules, the gossip, the stupidity, the prejudices, the loneliness of some of the residents, the hidden desires, the spoiled ambitions, the general decency as well as the routine and the tedium and the general lack of excitement.
4 from 5
McKimmey is definitely someone I want to read more from in the future, with Squeeze Play figuring highest on my radar. Surprisingly I have nothing else from the author on the shelves at home.
I bought my copy second hand recently on E-bay, in order to participate in Rich’s monthly meme over at Past Offences. This month’s year was 1958. Check the link to see what enthusiasts have been reading for the year.
With regards to my large print Linford Mystery Library copy (1997). McKimmey is listed as James McKimmy on the front and back covers and spine and on the inside title page as James McKimmey..... very sloppy – perhaps if they had printed it larger someone might have noticed.
Bill Crider has reviewed this one and Cornered here.