You know that feeling when a friend starts dating a totally hot but totally crazy girl? You can see the crazy right away, but all he sees is the hot? You know it’s gonna go sideways, and you want to scream at him to be careful, but you know it’ll fall on deaf ears.
That’s what it was like reading Richard Matheson’s first published novel, “Someone Is Bleeding”.
During his life, Matheson mastered several genres from science fiction (“The Shrinking Man”), horror (“I Am Legend”, “Hell House”) and westerns (“Journal of the Gun Years”). “Someone Is Bleeding” was published in 1953 by Lion Books, but it has the story structure of a Fawcett Gold Medal crime paperback where an Everyman is plunged into a world of violence by falling for a femme fatale.
In this case our hero-narrator is Los Angeles novelist Dave Newton. On a quiet day at the beach, Dave sees the irresistible Peggy sunbathing and decides he has to meet her. The reader quickly realizes that Peggy is a hot mess filled with neurosis and sexual hang-ups. It seems that every relationship in her life has been filled with dysfunction and sexual abuse - her ex, her lawyer, her father, her landlord – no one knows how to function around Peggy in a proper manner, but Nice Guy Dave is sure going to try.
The first quarter of the novel is mostly a tepid relationship drama as Dave learns to navigate the cyclone of man-drama that follows Peggy everywhere. It’s not until a character winds up murdered with an ice-pick in the eye that the action and intrigue begins. Dave knows that Peggy is damaged goods and even finds himself asking if a woman can be “rape prone” in the same way that some men are accident prone (these were less compassionate times regarding such matters, it seems).
As the bodies pile up within Peggy’s orbit, a compelling murder mystery evolves for Dave to solve. Could Peggy be murdering these people? Or is a bigger conspiracy afoot? The novel’s violence escalates with vivid villains and some great action sequences making the reader grateful for not bailing during the first quarter’s tale of tormented romance.
Matheson was a remarkable talent, and it’s fun to visit his humble beginnings in this short crime story. Finding the original paperback is a pricey proposition, but the book has been reprinted as an eBook and in a compilation titled Noir. This one is definitely worth your time.