Hillary Waugh (1920-2008), a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master and a Navy Air Corp veteran, began writing his first novel, “Madam Will Not Dine Tonight,” in 1947. The book propelled Waugh's literary career forward and was followed by over 45 novels of mystery and suspense between 1947 and 1988. Along with series creations like 'Homicide North', 'Simon Kaye' and 'Sheridan Wesley', Waugh authored 11 novels starring a small town Connecticut police chief named Fred Fellows. The series debut, “Sleep Long My Love”, was published in 1959 and adapted for the screen under the title “Jigsaw” in 1962.
My first experience with Waugh and his Fred Fellows character is the second installment, “Road Block”, published by Popular Library as a “Crime Club Selection” in 1960. The series can be read in any order, but there is a brief mention in “Road Block” recalling Fellows' murder investigation from the debut. The really interesting aspect of Waugh's writing is the emphasis on procedure. Known for his extensive detailing of investigations, the author divides “Road Block” into two point-by-point halves – one as a heist in planning and the other as the subsequent investigation of the heist.
The first 80-pages solely chronicles the actions of the criminals. Unlike his contemporaries, Waugh doesn't switch the perspective to various characters or alternate chapters between characters. The first half of the book centers around a criminal trio of Pete, Lloyd and Joe. During a temporary stop between jobs, Lloyd talks with a security guard in Stockton, CT (conveniently the jurisdiction of Fred Fellows) over beer. For $5,000, the guard is willing to leave a door unlocked at a nearby manufacturing plant. Lloyd's goal is to rob the payroll of its weekly $93,000 delivered by armored truck to a precise location within the plant. The trio then spends 40 or so pages planning the heist and building a crew to enact the plan.
The second half of the book, aside from one chapter, is solely devoted to Fred Fellows and his staff. After the reported heist, Fellows works closely with the state troopers to bottleneck Lloyd and his cohorts before they reach the expansive Merritt Parkway. While ordering the mandatory road blocks, Fellows interviews plant employees and guards to determine how the heist was executed and to forecast which back roads Lloyd will utilize for the getaway.
While certainly enjoyable, “Road Block” didn't overly impress me. I found it to be more of an event timeline (like “Dragnet”) than an actual story. Unless “Sleep Long My Love” served as an origin story, I felt that this second installment should have provided some backstory on Fred Fellows, as brief as that might be. His police procedures, including the geographical deductions, were entertaining but I never deduced that Fellows was necessarily the star of the show. In terms of police procedural novels, Waugh certainly isn't Ed McBain (Evan Hunter). “Road Block” was an easy, quality read, but this isn’t a series I'd necessarily pursue further.
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