Under the pen name of Ed Lacy, author Len Zinberg wrote 28 novels between the years 1951 and 1969. In December 1958, “Mercury Mystery Magazine” ran a 100-page novella by Lacy called “Time Wounds All Heels.” The story was expanded and published as a hardcover in 1958 as “Be Careful How You Live” which was reprinted in 1959 as a paperback titled “Dead End.” It’s currently available as a cheap eBook in all formats.
As the story begins, two cops named Doc and Bucky (our narrator) are laying low in a filthy, roach-infested hideout with a million bucks cash in three ratty suitcases. How did they get there? What’s the story with all that cash?
Lacy slowplays the explanations over the course of the novel comprising mostly of flashbacks from Bucky’s youth and police career leading up to the million dollars in ill-gotten gains. The narrator cop grew up as a hard-scrabble youth with a troubled family background who learned to use his fists early in life. Eventually, he discovers police work and drifts into a life with problematic choices involving on-the-job graft.
Bucky’s moral descent is hastened once he latches onto Doc, a fellow police detective who becomes a father figure to Bucky. Doc’s expertise is making police work lucrative while also working hard to fight crime and solve important cases. All of this comes to a head when a big case brings a million bucks into the officers’ lives quite unexpectedly.
It took a bit for this novel to really grab me, but once it took off, it was a fantastic read. I suspect that the original 100-page novella was about perfect, and it was later filled out to novel length by adding flashbacks of Bucky’s youth and filler scenes delving into his complex relationship with his parents.
Either way, the crime story at the core of this novel is compelling as hell. Lacy’s writing is predictably top-notch, and the plot was never predictable. Mostly, I’m thrilled to see that there are people hard at work keeping Lacy’s fiction alive for today’s readers. This one is highly recommended for fans of fast-moving 1950s hardboiled crime fiction.
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