Friday, July 20, 2018

Alone at Night

Author Marijane Meaker was also Ann Aldrich, M.E. Kerr, Mary James, M.J. Meaker and Laura Winston. However, the most popular pseudonym she donned was the Vin Packer one, which she used to pen nearly 20 novels between 1952-1966. The success of “Women's Barracks”, by author Tereska Torres, led to Meaker writing a great deal of lesbian fiction. Her highlight, “Spring Fire” (under Ann Aldrich) led to a big audience and an additional five books with lesbian themes. However, fans of the Gold Medal crime novels have an assortment of goodies to choose from including “Alone at Night”, originally published in 1963 and then reprinted by Stark House Press in 2005.

In the novel, we learn about the sleepy town of Cayuta. In it are two warring companies – Burr Manufacturing Company (BMC) and Leydecker Electric (LE). Slater Burr grew up in a poor household but worked hard his whole life. Eventually, he was able to take over the company he worked at, Stewart, and transform it into BMC. He earned wealth and power, but due to a decline in productivity he's on the outs. His competitor is Kenneth Leydecker, owner of LE who has ties to Slater – Kenneth's father employed Slater's father back in the day. In fact, he stole his ideas for his own gain, building a fortune for himself while the Burrs were penniless. Thus, the two companies are at odds for real estate, growth and personnel. 

This is a crime novel, so where's the crime? In prior events, we learn that Slater and his former wife Carrie were having issues and that Slater cheated on her with his current wife Jen. Carrie is killed in a drunk driving accident caused by Buzzy Cloward, but there's a mystery there on how this came to be and if Buzzy was really the man behind the wheel. Regardless, Buzzy is sentenced to eight years in prison and returns to Cayuta in the books opening chapters. Along with the immense back story on the Burr/Leydecker feud we get the telling of Buzzy's life. Leydecker's daughter fell in love with Buzzy before Carrie's death despite her father's intense scolding. The rich Leydeckers don't mingle with the poor Clowards. But before the wedding, Buzzy and Carrie meet their doom and this is the end result of that fateful night eight years ago.

“Alone at Night” is a 150 page soap opera. It's who's cheating with who, where and how it relates to the other people who are in their own vicious love affairs. The central storyline is Buzzy piecing it all together, but he's dimwitted and needs to be coaxed into remembering events by the town's beer swilling bar hoppers. There's Jen and Burr's relationship, rocky as it is, and Jen starting to realize things aren't what they seem. There's tiny side stories regarding various characters that play pivotal roles in the book's eventual unveiling. Who killed Carrie? Will Buzzy remember? Is Burr a criminal? Why is Leydecker's daughter strange? The author asks a lot of her reader to remember it all...but I did with some notes and mental effort. 

It's an enjoyable read that doesn't shake the walls of the literary community. It's a small town mystery crime novel and for that...Vin Packer does alright. 

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