Because of the association with his mentor H.P. Lovecraft and the success of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” author Robert Bloch (1917-1994) is remembered as a horror writer, but he also did a lot of work in the crime fiction genre. In fact, I would maintain that “Psycho” is more of a suspenseful crime fiction story than a horror novel anyway, but that’s a different argument for a different day.
Bloch’s novel “The Kidnaper” was released by upstart crime fiction paperback house, Lion Books in 1954 - five years before “Psycho.” It was reprinted by Tor Books in 1988 with a horror-themed cover and a modernized spelling of the title as “The Kidnapper.” Decades later, Bloch cited the novel as among his best work.
Our narrator is Steve Collins, a freight train riding drifter and petty criminal who breezes into town and lands a job working the night shift at a factory. Steve’s not a very nice guy, and you need to be comfortable spending 180 pages with a cold antihero operating with a severely-busted moral compass. If you need a white-hat protagonist in your fiction, look elsewhere.
Shirley Mae is the four year-old daughter of a wealthy businessman in town. Steve’s new girlfriend is the kid’s nanny, and he sees this as a real opportunity to make some big cash in a kidnapping and ransom gambit. He enlists the help of his dimwitted friend in the execution of the scheme which goes very wrong, and the majority of the novel is Steve’s attempts to salvage the operation, get the dough, and get lost.
This is a seriously dark noir novel that was clearly inspired by Jim Thompson, who was doing basically the same thing at the same time. It was also an excellent book if you’re looking for something gritty as hell to read. Steve is an unapologetic sociopath but otherwise logical and level-headed, so the book doesn’t force you into a mentally ill mind for the narration as in many of Thompson’s paperbacks. Bloch does a fantastic job keeping the action moving, and the tension-filled pages really fly by.
As long as you know what you’re getting and are comfortable with untidy crimes in your crime fiction, “The Kidnaper” is an easy recommendation.
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