Friday, September 7, 2018

Hostage for a Hood

“Hostage for a Hood” was a 1957 paperback by under-appreciated crime novelist Lionel White who specialized in fantastic heist and caper stories. The book has been reprinted for 21st century readers by Stark House as a double along with White’s “The Merriweather File” from 1959 and an introduction by Brian Greene.

“Hostage for a Hood” opens with a simple car accident - a bit more than just a fender-bender - in the suburban community of Brookside. The accident involves doting housewife Joyce Sherwood (and her poodle) striking a car containing Harry Cribbins and Karl Mitty (dressed as policemen) who are en route to meet others for their meticulously-planned armored car robbery. The tension of heist day is compounded by the accident, and the crooks kidnap Joyce to ensure that their robbery happens on the required timetable.

White employs a clever “time jumping” style in this one - like Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” - where the events of the novel aren’t always portrayed in exact chronological order. There’s also a good bit of third-person perspective jumping as well. It’s an effective storytelling trick that keeps the reader hungry to learn what brought the characters this far. White was an immensely talented writer, so the narrative is never confusing, and readers won’t be lost along the way. The story ping-pongs from the planning of the heist, to the missing person’s investigation, to the robbery’s aftermath where the thieves find themselves with an attractive, yet unexpected, guest for their getaway.

Cribbins and Mitty are colorful and well-drawn hoodlums. Cribbins is a criminal mastermind of sorts (think Richard Stark’s Parker), and Mitty is his hulking, dimwit sidekick. A handful of secondary characters - some important, others not - round out the robbery crew for this well-orchestrated caper. Through White’s adept perspective changes, the reader is also treated to an excellent police procedural story, as well as the tale of Joyce’s husband searching for his missing bride. I found the scenes with the police and the husband piecing the puzzle together to be among the most satisfying of the novel.

The tension of the story increases the longer the holdup crew occupies the safe house with their hostage. All this is builds to a violent conclusion, and the resolution is handled perfectly. It’s hard to read Lionel White without comparing his work to Richard Stark, and “Hostage for a Hood” can hang with the best of the heist sub-genre. Highly recommended.

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