Friday, 23 January 2015

The Accused by Harold R. Daniels, 1958

Crime and courtroom made this an interesting read for Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

They said he murdered his wife. They didn’t say why…

The plot, the atmosphere, and the characterisation in The Accused (1958) by American crime writer Harold R. Daniels are so realistic as to make the story seem plausible. The writing is clean and evenly paced and the narrative holds your interest. The end is unusual, almost disappointing, but it works for the novel.

The Accused begins with the trial of Alvin Morlock, 35, a reasonably handsome English teacher at Ludlow College in the small town of Warfield, Massachusetts. He stands accused of murdering his wife, Louise, an attractive woman addicted to sex (with other men), booze, and gambling. The prosecution acknowledges that Louise Morlock was no paragon of virtue but that was still no reason for Alvin to kill his wife, even if he’d enough reasons to—their failed marriage, Louise’s extravagance and promiscuity, a $1,000 life insurance policy on his wife, mounting debt, and public humiliation. A jury buys the charges and sends Alvin to death.

“…I would impress on you that whatever his motives for murder, they in no sense mitigate his guilt. It is not the dead Louise Morlock who is on trial here. It is her husband, and the charge against him is the taking of a human life.”

What happens next, or in the end to be precise, is what makes this novel tick in my opinion. I thought it was incredulous and innovative at the same time. It leaves you muttering, “What the hell…?”

The other reason I liked The Accused is the manner in which Harold R. Daniels weaves his typical fifties noirish story in and out of the courtroom, the trial preceding and following each chapter in the dysfunctional lives of Alvin and Louise caught in an unhappy marriage. In that sense it’s a fine courtroom drama where, at one point, the prosecutor and the court-appointed defence counsel actually rue over Alvin’s fate.


Elsewhere, I could accept Louise’s character of a tramp, which fits into the narrative. However, I couldn’t digest Alvin’s character who in spite of being simple, decent, an introvert, and conscientious is still characterless. By that I mean he comes across as pathetic from the moment he decides he’s done being lonely, makes a stupid mistake and marries Louise, and eventually pays for it.

The Accused is a fine crime story made finer by the courtroom trial. Recommended.

Veteran reviewer and blogger George Kelley, who blogs at GeorgeKelley.org is back., did an excellent review of six crime novels of Harold R. Daniels, including this one, over at Mystery File. The other five novels are In His Blood (1955), The Girl in 304 (1956), The Snatch (1958), For the Asking (1962), and House on Greenapple Road (1966). Click on Mystery File to read George's piece.

18 comments:

  1. Sounds good. I haven't read anything by Daniels

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    1. Charles, this Daniels' novel was a first for me too and I'll be looking for the ones George Kelley has reviewed.

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  2. Ah, belatedly I have stumbled onto your excellent blog, and I have added it to my favorites at Beyond Eastrod -- and I will be visiting often! Have a great day!

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    1. R.T., thanks very much for the kind words. I look forward to your visits and comments as well as reading your blog BEYOND EASTROD.

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  3. If you read a lot of noir you'll find that most of the men are exactly like Alvin. Richard Neely and Gil Brewer, for example, both have created dozens of dopey men who think with their groins and lack common sense when it comes to hooking up with predatory women. The women almost always outsmart the men and both usually pay with their lives for their mistakes. I've not heard of this writer, but I recognize the title of his last novel as a TV movie that was kind of a cult classic when I was a teen.

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    1. John, that's a curious but interesting comment. I wasn't aware of stereotypical characters like Alvin in noir fiction which I started reading only a couple of years ago. Since then, I have been discovering "new" noir writers via blogs such as yours.

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  4. I read this one and several other books by Daniels long ago. Enjoyed all of them, as I recall.

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    1. Bill, I'll be reading more novels by Daniels as and when I find them in my neck of the woods.

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  5. Like Bill, I read Daniels' novels decades ago. I remember liking them.

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    1. George, I enjoyed reading your reviews of all his six novels. I now know what to expect in the other five books.

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  6. Very interesting, Prashant. I would buy this one just for the cover, and if I find it I will read it too.

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    1. Tracy, THE ACCUSED is a nicely written story and the characters of both Alvin and Louise are drawn well.

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  7. Another new author to me that I had previously never heard of. I like the sound of this, but have enough to get on with already. Probably!

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    1. Col, the author is right up your crime fiction street. Maybe, you could find place for one or two of his books in your tubs.

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  8. This one I haven't read though I'm quite familiar with the writer. Thanks for another fine review, Prashant.

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    1. David, you're welcome. I discovered this book quite by chance and learnt more about the author online, especially through George Kelley's article linked above. Hopefully, I'll find his other works too,

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  9. I'd never heard of this, but I always like the idea of a surprising ending, as you say one that leaves you saying 'what the Hell...?' - so am tempted to try to find this.

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    1. Moira, I'm all for happy endings in books and films but sometimes they work very well the other way round too, as it does in this case. THE ACCUSED is a fairly short read.

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