The industry often cites heavyweights like Keene, Brewer and Whittington as literary kings within the crime fiction genre. While never as commercially successful, author Charles Williams was equally as masterful, penning a number of 1950s paperback classics. One of these, Nothing in Her Way (1953), has been reprinted as a Stark House Press double with River Girl (1951).
The novel can be viewed in two separate halves with connecting characters and stories. Ideally, it's a heist novel with two different pitches – one involving a risky, elaborate real estate deal and the other a “fixed” horse race. The two heists are thickly woven with a robust cast of scoundrels, each with their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the rather dense, but easily digested, story arcs.
Mike (obligatory first person protagonist) and Cathy are out to avenge their fathers' wrongdoing in a botched business transaction. Their fathers worked at a building firm that reached its pinnacle of success supplying infrastructure in Central America. Both men were pinned under a rather scrupulous business arrangement that sent them both to prison while partners Goodwin and Lachlan made off as wealthy benefactors. Fast-forward 16 years and Cathy has formed a fairly spectacular heist-revenge caper.
In the book's opening pages, Mike is recruited by Cathy and a seasoned con man in Bolton. The ploy? Oddly, to con Goodwin into purchasing land he already owns from Mike. While the idea seems preposterous to Mike and the reader, the narrative explores Mike pretending to be a chemist studying sand in a small desert town – desert owned by Goodwin. How does it shake up? No spoilers here, let's just say the first half ends in a fiery crescendo of fists, bullets and a complex getaway.
The second half, as you might have guessed, focuses on Lachlan. With Goodwin...ill-disposed...the tables are stacked to have Lachlan bet a fortune on a horse race that he perceives is fixed. The idea of a predetermined horse race seems impossible, but it's up to Mike and Cathy to don another disguise to con Lachlan into thinking it's legit. As complicated as that might be, it's further hampered by an old creditor named Donnelly wanting a piece of the stakes...or Cathy dead.
I just can't say enough positive things about this Charles Williams masterpiece. After reading it, I immediately thought about how it would look as a film. In researching material for this review I discovered it was adapted for film already! In 1963 the book was adapted into the French comedy Peau de banan, which later released in the US as Banana Peel. Whether you track it down or not, don't skip out on this novel. The gem is available both physically and digitally and has been re-printed several times including the Stark House double.
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