Tuesday, 4 June 2019

DAY KEENE - THERE WAS A CROOKED MAN (1954)


Synopsis/blurb......

THERE WAS A CROOKED MAN

His name was Clay Burgess. Occupation: cop - he started out honest. Then he walked a crooked mile - with the little black bag to collect the loot from The Slot's gamblers. And he found a crooked sixpence when he began to dip into the little black bag for - the redhead from St. Louis. 

According to a few comments over on Goodreads this isn't one of Keene's better books and if I'm being honest it wasn't great.

Haines City, late 30's and Clay Burgess is an honest cop. The chief of Police and the DA, enlist Clay to make the regular collections from the bars, clubs and cathouses - the envelopes stuffed with cash and dropped in the bag - all the cost of doing business and oiling the machine in this small town.

It's initially a slow fall from grace. Burgess married, madly in love and wanting to please his wife, trades up his one bed apartment for a house he can't afford. He becomes resentful of his bosses, jealous of the jewels flaunted around the neck of the DA's wife, tired of fixing events for the drunken police chief, all to keep the wheels of the town turning. He changes and becomes just another pig at the trough, taking more than his share from the bag.

Marital bliss, country club membership, furniture payments, new car, a gardener, a cleaner, financial pressures, pregnancy, drinking, cheating - with the wrong woman, fixing, stealing, death, birth, fatherhood, medical problems, more expenses, a showdown with the bosses, another death and a disappearing act.

Twelve years later, the carnival comes to town and our unfinished business gets concluded.

I quite liked the depiction of how Burgess turned and his simple life morphed out of control. I enjoyed his journey and the erosion of his morals, turning himself into the kind of person he initially despised. I was less convinced by his adultery as he was always doing everything for his wife. It did serve a purpose as far as helping the plot along.

I was less enamoured by the twelve years later thing which didn't really work for me. It was a bit weak in my opinion; almost an afterthought, as if the author had written himself into a hole, got bored with Burgess and the book and didn't know where to take his tale.

Not one that will live too long in the memory, though it was far from the worst book I've ever read. I certainly haven't been put off from reading him again.

Probably a 3 from 5 at a push.

Day Keene wrote about forty books in a career spanning the late 40s to the late 60s. He died in 1969. There's a couple more of his better regarded books on the shelves.

Read - June, 2019
Published - 1954
Page count - 112
Source - purchased copy
Format - paperback

9 comments:

  1. I noticed this on your "currently reading" list a day or two ago and have been awaiting your account of it with some interest: I have a few Keene novels in the stacks, but haven't read anything by him as yet (so far as I can remember). Sorry to hear this one wasn't splendid; relieved to hear that it was nonetheless pretty readable!

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    1. I enjoyed elements of it, but overall it wasn't brilliant. I have Notorious and Home is the Sailor waiting but I'm not rushing towards them. If they are better than this they should be worth the time invested.

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  2. Sorry to hear this one didn't have the stamina all the way through, Col. It sounds like a story that had an awful lot of promise, and I find character changes like that to be really fascinating. I can see how you were drawn in to that part of the novel.

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    1. I think the slow erosion of his fibre was the major plus point, but the adultery just seemed a liberty too far for me, particularly regarding his motivations. On the other hand, it was a way of getting back at his boss....

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  3. I would like to read something by this author, but I won't start with this one.

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    1. Tracy, there are better ones out there. I'm hoping the two I have unread are part of that band.

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  4. Col – Thanks for the reminder to read more Day Keene. Crime stories from the 1950s rank high on my list.

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    1. Ha, I'll have to dig out some Lionel White and David Goodis soon!

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