Friday, 23 May 2014

The Intruders by Evan Hunter, 1954

This week’s contribution for Friday’s Forgotten Books over at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

I had almost forgotten, when they came and reopened all the old wounds—the woman who swam naked before my unseeing eyes, and the man who had already killed once…

Just over six thousand words, this short story by Evan Hunter (alias Ed McBain) is not as gritty and hardboiled as the blurb hints. Instead, what you get from the legendary crime fiction writer is only a degree of suspense and the atmosphere of a thriller. It’s enough to keep you glued to every word in this cracking story. 

Adventure, April 1954
Jeff Toland is a brave young man, a former soldier, and blind. He is angry and frustrated because he is patronised. His older brother, Tom, treats him like a simpleton and his father follows him around lest he trips and kills himself. Jeff rebels. He wants to be left alone. He decides to go up to the cabin in the woods next to a brook and live there all by himself.

"I had liked the world I made. It was a world of quiet darkness, with no people in it."


And then one day, Jeff is walking along the trail he knows too well and making his way back to the cabin guided by familiar sounds and smells of nature. He steps inside the cabin and makes his way across the room when his toe hits the leg of a chair that isn’t supposed to be there. That’s when he realises something is wrong. The next moment a .45 is rammed into his back.

Sam, the owner of the .45, is hiding from the law. He has killed a man in a fight. He is not really a bad man, only a victim of circumstances, we are told. He and the woman with him, Dot, want to spend a few days in the cabin. Sam is threatening until Dot tells him that Jeff is blind and can't do harm. When Sam mocks Jeff about his blindness, he reopens his old wounds. Jeff seethes with rage and plots his revenge.

Bestseller Mystery,
March 1959
Evan Hunter weaves the suspense nicely into the narrative. Jeff’s furtive search for his rifle in the closet and the hidden chemistry between him and Dot are the notable suspense elements in the story while Jeff’s mental picture of Dot and his exuberance upon learning that she is Sam’s sister and not his wife or lover add a touch of humour to it. None of this means anything for Hunter ends the story on a bit of an anticlimactic note. But he doesn’t leave you in a blind alley.

The Intruders, one of dozens of short stories Evan Hunter wrote in crime, mystery, and science fiction, was apparently first published in Adventure: The Man’s Magazine of Exciting Fiction and Fact, April 1954, and reproduced in Bestseller Mystery Magazine, March 1959. I read the story in the latter, online.

18 comments:

  1. I haven't read through that issue yet, but I am a devoted fan of Avram Davidson's fiction, so did read a few years back the story he co-wrote with one of the less-prolific of the Futurian-group writers, Chester Cohen...it's slight, but not too shabby. http://www.unz.org/Pub/BestsellerMystery-1959mar (Unz's current highlighting of an aggressively sociobiological article, albeit one sapient enough to question the usefulness of IQ testing, might well put some readers off).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Todd, I've come across a lot of fascinating mystery, sf and fantasy stories over at Unz that I'm content reading and not writing about. There'll be the occasional exception like this story by Hunter.

      Delete
  2. Evan Hunter under many pseudonyms produced plenty of fiction in the Fifties. THE INTRUDERS is good, but you might want to check out VANISHING LADIES and THE SPIKED HEEL originally published under "Richard Masten" and later reprinted under "Ed McBain."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. George, thanks for the tips on Hunter's other stories. Except for a couple of sf short stories and a couple of 87th Precinct mysteries (under Ed McBain), I haven't read much by the author.

      Delete
  3. Definitely want to read this one - thanks very much Prashant, shall look for it online.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sergio, thank you. You'll find it at Unz. I'd like to know what you think of it.

      Delete
  4. That's not an issue I have - I only have a few dozen - but the story sounds great. So does the book George mentions. I'll have to look for them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Richard, I thought the story was good. While I come across a lot of early paperbacks, I have never ever seen vintage sf, fantasy or mystery magazines. That may be because magazines don't get around as much as books do. Fortunately, I can read them online.

      Delete
  5. Sounds mighty interesting, Prashant. Thanks for the intro to another story I've yet to read. Maybe because I'm not really a short story reader. But if I run across it, I will definitely give it a look.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yvette, you're welcome. The story is interesting and Hunter keeps you guessing about what his characters will do next. I enjoy reading short stories between full-length novels.

      Delete
  6. Never read anything under the "hunter" name, but lots of McBains

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Same here, Charles. In fact, I'm a new entrant to the Hunter/McBain books and there is so much to read yet.

      Delete
  7. I don't normally read short stories, Prashant, but this makes me very curious. I will find it online and read it. Thanks for the review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tracy, you're welcome. I think you'll like the story, especially given your interest in mystery and other crime fiction. I read this online too.

      Delete
  8. Might be short, but I'm sinking in books, so I'll pass on this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Col, that's one reason why I read short stories; it's akin to coming up for air every once in a while and then diving back into the books.

      Delete
  9. This sounds intriguing. Evan Hunter such an extraordinary writer, such incredible output! I feel I can't keep up....there's just so much out there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Moira, I'm with you on all counts. Hunter tells a simple story in an extraordinary manner. I doubt I'll ever be able to read everything he has written.

      Delete