Friday, 5 December 2014

Hostage for a Hood by Lionel White, 1957

A review of a gritty crime novel by Lionel White for Friday’s Forgotten Books over at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

Every minute she had was borrowed, and every second ticked off the time for murder.

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If ever I have read a hardboiled story about a lead character who happens to be at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and gets into serious trouble, it’s Hostage for a Hood, 1957, by Lionel White. Chronologically, it’s the American crime writer’s twelfth novel out of a total of nearly forty dark and noirish stories.

Joyce Sherwood, small, slender, beautiful, and in her early twenties, is returning from the bank with a cashier’s cheque for $2,600 when she crashes her seven-year old sedan into a Cadillac on a deserted stretch of Brookside. Two hoodlums, one of them carrying a Tommy gun, step out of the other car, assess the damage to their vehicle, and straightaway hijack Joyce, her French poodle, and her Chevy.

The hoods were on their way to ambush an armoured car ferrying a quarter of a million dollars and a pretty housewife had suddenly messed up their plan. Cribbins, the one with the Tommy gun and in charge of the caper, takes Joyce with him to a deserted mansion in Cameron Corners, an old farming town two hours away. However, before he does, Cribbins and his accomplices manage to ambush the armoured vehicle, kill the driver in cold blood, and make off with the loot.


Joyce’s dream—of buying a new car for her loving husband and ex-marine, Bart Sherwood, for their first wedding anniversary—soon turns into a horrible nightmare, as she is chained and locked up in a dark and dingy room inside the mansion.

Enter Detective Lieutenant Martin Parks, in charge of homicide of the Brookside force, and his assistant, Detective Horace Sims, who are understanding of Bart’s plight but can do little without leads and witnesses. Also enter the other hoodlums including a particularly evil junkie called Santino who is obsessed with sex and slaying, and a sexy moll called Paula who unwittingly sparks trouble between Cribbins and Santino.

Back home, Bart Sherwood is anguished by his wife’s sudden disappearance. He doesn’t lose faith in Joyce in spite of the possibility that she might have run out on him, with another man and all their savings. He and Joyce are crazy about each other.

“My wife and I are in love with each other. Joyce wouldn’t leave me. Even if she wanted to, which is preposterous, she couldn’t have done it this way.”

Joyce spends a week in abject fear and chained captivity during which she comes very close to being raped and killed and, in one particular scene, is a mute and tormented spectator to a midnight romp between Cribbins and Paula on her bed. There is no graphic description but White tells you what is happening through the shock, surprise, and humiliation felt by Joyce.

With little help from the police, it is left to Bart Sherwood to find his missing wife and he does so by following a series of coincidences, including the reappearance and disappearance of their poodle.

Frankly, I didn’t realise that Hostage for a Hood was a caper until my blog friend George Kelley brought it to my attention that Lionel White, in fact, specialised in capers. And, in so far as capers go, this is the best one I have read in many years. The characters are atypical but very well-drawn; the plot is solid from the start; and the narrative, while slow to begin with, gathers momentum and finishes with a chilling climax. Recommended.

20 comments:

  1. This sounds great Prashant - I have one of White's books on the shelf, CLEAN BREAK, and will look at it over the holidays - thanks.

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    1. Sergio, you're welcome. I enjoyed the novel and it gave me an idea what to expect from Lionel White.

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  2. For most of the 1950s and 1960s Lionel White published a dozen caper novels. He specialized in the pre-planning of the crime, the execution, and then, of course, Something Would Go Wrong. I'm a big fan of the caper genre and Lionel White's books are some of the best!

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    1. George, I'm still discovering some great novels published in the 1950s and 1960s and I'll be on the lookout for more capers by Lionel White.

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  3. I have all White's Gold Medal books, but I haven't read this one. Maybe it's time.

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    1. Bill, I was lucky to find this one and I'd be luckier still if I found any more Lionel White paperbacks.

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  4. Sounds good. I'm gonna look for this.

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    1. Charles, it's a good story — the kind I like to read and even write.

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  5. Sounds like a good one, all right. I'll have to see if I can come across a copy in my used book store visits.

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    1. Richard, I'm sure you'll have no trouble finding a copy and when you do I'd like to know what you think of it.

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  6. I read THE KILLING (aka CLEAN BREAK) a few years ago and I believe I have something else from him on the shelves.
    I thought I had read another - something about a plane crash and some straights and crims battling their way to safety across a jungle terrain - but I'm probably confusing this book - title forgotten with another author.

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    1. Col, both you and Sergio mentioned CLEAN BREAK, so I'll be keeping an eye out for a copy the next time I visit my used bookshops.

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  7. I must confess, I've collected a lot of the Gold Medal books for the cover art, but read very few of them. I like a good caper myself, so I'll have to look into White.

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    1. Kelly, this one's worth reading. It starts out slowly and then picks up pace. I read it in three sitting which in my case is a rarity.

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  8. Prashant, this seems interesting though a little too grisly for my liking. I have read CLEAN BREAK and watched its movie version. Your review makes me want to read more of White.

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    1. Neer, HOSTAGE FOR A HOOD is hardboiled but not grisly. It's the kind of book where you know something's going to happen except you don't know what.

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  9. This sounds like proper old-school hardboiled Prashant, a bit like No Orchids for Miss Blandish. Great review, when I'm looking for this kind of read I will certainly bear it in mind.

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    1. Moira, thank you. It's interesting you should mention Chase's NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH which I read a very long time ago and intend to read it again for my "First Novels" challenge. I didn't realise that Chase also specialised in capers.

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  10. New author for me, Prashant. Thanks for introducing me to him. I love heist stories.

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    1. Tracy, you're welcome. This is a good heist story though it's not about the heist as much as about the half-a-dozen oddball characters. I think you'll like it.

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