New York author Leonard Zinberg utilized the pen name Ed Lacy for his solid run of 1950s and 1960s crime paperbacks. He wrote nearly 30 novels in this span, including “Lead with Your Left”, published in 1957. Like a majority of Lacy's work, it features a former boxer as a main character.
While firmly entrenched in the mystery and crime genre, “Lead with Your Left” is a poignant study of young marriage. It's the trials and tribulations of young love weighed against the financial burdens of new careers. For me, that's the thread weaving this enjoyable crime novel together. Lacy speaks from the heart with a realistic, grim approach to his storytelling. Much like popular contemporary David Goodis, Lacy is swept up with famine, love, loss and the proverbial triumph over adversity.
The novel's protagonist is Dave Wintino, a baby-faced rookie detective in NY who is striving to survive in the battle ground of marriage, work and bills. From the book's opening we learn that Dave and his wife Mary are at odds over his career choice. Mary, hoping her spouse would join her uncle's fabric business, is embarrassed to be a “cop's wife” and that his youth and smarts are wasted on what she perceives as meaningless work. Adding more abrasion, Dave's peers at the precinct refuse to accept him based on his size and young appearance. But, we quickly come to understand this character – former Army vet and ex-boxer with an iron determination to complete a job or assignment at any cost.
Dave's case is the death of retired detective Owens. He was found shot with nonnegotiable bonds in an alleyway. While the senior detectives work around Dave as if he is an obstruction, the young detective takes it upon himself to solve the crime on and off the payroll. He finds that both Owens and his partner Wales put away a murderer/gangster years ago and there may be a connection. Running with a revenge scenario, Dave's investigation ascends the ranks once Wales is found murdered as well. While working with family and former colleagues, Dave is able to connect the dots and determine that all isn't what it appears to be.
Lacy's positioning of a failing marriage into the narrative is important. As the Owens investigation continues, Dave is assigned a watchmen role for a young journalist who is harassed by a company she is exposing in print. Lusting after the young woman, Dave bounces freedom and individuality off the marriage brick house, contemplating his life and career choices. The book's pivotal point is finding the surprise connection between the two cases. Once that's established, the book races to a fiery crescendo as Dave faces the murderer without the precinct's help.
The bottom line – Lacy is a master of his domain. I thoroughly have enjoyed his work and continue to seek out his name on those dusty store shelves. “Lead with Your Left” is a compelling and enjoyable read. Recommended.