Lewis Elliott Chaze (1915-1990) was an American WW2 veteran, journalist, and mainstream novelist who crafted a Fawcett Gold Medal crime novel in 1953 titled “Black Wings Has My Angel” that is regarded as one of the finest noir novels of the 1950s. The book has been reprinted several times over the past 66 years under the original title and as “One for the Money” and “One for My Money.” Stark House Books has brought the paperback back from literary hibernation along with the excellent “One Is A Lonely Number” by Bruce Elliott.
The novel opens with our narrator, using the name Tim Sunblade, finishing up a roughnecking job on a Louisiana river and ordering a whore to be delivered to his hotel room for some recreation. He’s surprised when the bellhop brings him Virginia, a stunning beauty with a taste for sex and money. After a few days of energetic banging, Tim decides to bring her on the road with him figuring that he can always ditch her at a rest stop if her company becomes tiresome. Virginia is quite possibly the most conniving femme fatale in the history of the noir genre. She’s truly a character you’ll never forget.
Through his narration, we learn that Tim once received an expensive university education and is currently a fugitive following a daring prison escape. His road trip with Virginia takes them to Colorado, and the reader begins to get glimpses of what Tim has in mind: a daring heist. The plan is revealed in bits and pieces - Denver, an abandoned mine shaft, and a trailer large enough to fit an armored car. As a cover, Tim and Virginia set up shop in a solid working-class neighborhood posing as a married couple for the planning phase of the operation.
The heist itself was pretty good and the aftermath is legitimately compelling with periodic explosions of extreme violence. There’s plenty of bloodshed and betrayal to hold your interest, and the novel’s conclusion is genuinely sick, dark, and fantastic. For the entire ride, Chaze’s writing strikes a conversational tone and has many thoughtful insights about the human condition. At times his prose is rather beautiful and literary - a step above most of the writing in this genre.
Overall, I really don’t have a bad word to say about this compact and entertaining piece of noir history. It’s really up there with the classics of the genre, and we should all be thankful that Stark House has bought this important work of literature back into print. This is a must-read. Highly recommended.
This novel was featured on the July 15, 2019 episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast.
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Good review and equally good podcast. What's forgotten about Black Wings' "sudden" resurgence is the fact that there would have been no resurgence had it not been for Bill Crider and Max Allan Collins (who trumpeted the book as the "quintessential" crime novel in The Scream Factory Magazine #11 way back in 1993 (long before Stark House), two guys who could spot a gem in a pile of rubbish from miles away and spoke highly of this and several other "unknown gems" such as Jada Davis's One for Hell, One is a Lonely Number (aka "The Cocktail Jungle") by Bruce Elliott, and The Hot Shot by Fletcher Flora. Without these guys (and Gorman and Pronzini), chances are these forgotten gems would have stayed forgotten.ReplyDelete