Harry Whittington’s “A Night for Screaming” is a 1960 fugitive-on-the-run story told by Mitch Walker - an innocent man accused of murder - who is dodging the law and finds himself broke and hungry in a small Kansas town after being booted from a freight train the night before.
The local redneck fuzz is less of a concern to Mitch than psychotic Police Detective Fred Palmer who has been pursuing Mitch for the murder. Palmer is a fantastic character - a brilliant and brutal cop who can adeptly quarterback the pursuit, arrest, torturous interrogation, and conviction of any fugitive. When Detective Palmer arrives in Kansas to join the hunt, it’s Mitch’s worst nightmare.
Mitch takes refuge as a migrant worker on the mega-farm outside of town. The farm is staffed by hourly workers as well as forced labor consisting of local prisoners from the county. The owner of the farm is an enigmatic and fascinating character with a lusty and unstable wife who is always looking for a romp with the help.
The less you know about what goes on at the Great Plains Empire Farm, the better. This is a helluva story, and I’m not going to ruin it for you here. Suffice it to say that this one will keep you turning the pages long after you should be attending to your other human needs. Whittington wrote compelling books, and this is among his best. Today’s authors could learn a lot from Whittington’s knack for plotting a tightly-wound, fat-free story. The action in this novel is propulsive and starts from page one, and the unfolding events are never predictable. I read a lot of this stuff, and I never knew exactly where things were headed in this one.
In the beginning of the Stark House Noir Classics re-release of “A Night for Screaming,” there is a helpful bibliography of Whittington’s novels and the numbers are staggering. The Florida native wrote over 170 books between the years 1946 and 1988 making him the “King of the Paperbacks” during an important era of American literature. Stark House’s re-packaging of this classic also includes Whittington’s “Any Woman He Wanted” and an informative introduction by David Wilson. Highly recommended. Purchase a copy here.