In 2017, Stark House Press released a three-pack featuring notable Day Keene (real name: Gunard Hjertstedt) literary works - “Sleep with the Devil” (1954), “Joy House” (1954) and “Wake Up to Murder” (1952). I had the opportunity to review “Sleep with the Devil” (1954) earlier this year and enjoyed it immensely. After reading his 1953 novel “Death House Doll”, I was anxious to turn the pages on another Day Keene crime-noir.
“Wake Up to Murder” introduces us to Jim Charters, an ordinary man living in the peaceful locale of Sun City, Florida. Jim has been married for ten years, lives a quiet existence in suburbia and works as a courier for a local attorney. But, below this average exterior...Jim is ready to explode.
Jim lusts after his co-worker, a fiery vixen named Lou. Longing to fulfill his heated desires, Jim battles his emotions everyday, living a fantasy within his own mind. On his birthday, His boss fires Jim for drinking with Lou and other co-workers after hours in the office. Later, he arrives home to find that his wife has apparently forgotten his annual anniversary of being alive. Wrecked with an evening of tasteless, tough liver and his recent termination, Jim's pressure cooker erupts after his sexual advancements are declined. Furious, Jim drives to the beach and begins a drunken night of debauchery.
The next morning, Jim awakens in a hotel bed with a massive hangover and a naked Lou lying by his side. While coming to grips with his situation, a man named Mantin shows up and provides $10,000 in cash to Jim. His only vivid remarks are, “So there you are, Jim. What we agreed on. Just like it come from the bank”. In a groggy, alcohol-fueled stupor, Jim accepts the money without asking any pertinent questions and Mantin departs. What did Jim promise Mantin he'd do to earn this robust reward?
Day Keene's crime-noir is saturated with repressed desires, sexual frustration and the elephant-sized burdens of life. Jim carries the weight of the world on his back...and in the cash-stuffed envelope he holds in his hands. The novel's narrative slowly unravels, peeling back the layers to expose Jim's marriage, career and past tragedies. But, this is a crime novel, and after Jim discovers Mantin murdered in a seaside mansion, the novel gains traction and propels the story into some surprising twists and turns.
Anyone familiar with Day Keene will quickly acclimate themselves to his storytelling. “Wake Up to Murder” possesses many of the author's tropes – an innocent crime suspect, easily obtainable riches (illegal of course), the scorned lover and a flawed protagonist attempting to right a wrong. Together, it's a winning formula and one that solidifies Keene's place in the higher echelon of crime-noir writers of this era.
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