A murderous home invader with a score to settle descends on the home of suburban parents, Chris and Helen Martin. Is it a case of mistaken identity or has Chris been dishonest with his wife about his own checkered past? That’s the premise of the 1959 Richard Matheson novel, “Ride the Nightmare.” The short paperback was adapted into an episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and later as the 1970 film “Cold Sweat” starring Charles Bronson.
By telling the story largely from Helen’s perspective, Matheson plays with wives’ fears that they really don’t know their husbands all that well. As the suspense unfolds, Helen experiences the dawning realization that she may, in fact, be married to a Man of Violence and not just an upstanding member of the local Chamber of Commerce. Helen’s decisions among the tension provide the human element to this outstanding, hard-boiled novel.
I can’t help but wonder if Donald Hamilton read this 1959 Matheson novel before writing his own masterpiece, 1960’s “Death of a Citizen” (Matt Helm #1). Both paperbacks have similar stories about family men needing to draw upon their violent talents to protect their loved ones when adversaries aren’t ready to allow them to make a new start.
A good way to sample Matheson’s early crime work - including “Ride the Nightmare - is the three-book compilation “Noir” released in 2005. The original paperback remains pretty rare, but it’s been made available on Kindle for those who like their paperbacks without paper.
By 1959, Matheson had found his voice and the quality of this exciting paperback is head-and-shoulders above Matheson’s other early-career forays into noir fiction. It’s not especially ground-breaking, but an extremely well-executed genre novel by an author at the top of his game. Recommended.