Whit Masterson was a pseudonym for the literary collaborations of Bob Wade and Bill Miller, who were also prolific under their other pen name, Wade Miller. “A Cry in the Night” was a 1955 kidnapping thriller released as a Bantam paperback that was also titled “All Through the Night” in hardcover and adapted into a film starring Raymond Burr and Natalie Wood in 1956. The novel remains available today as a cheap eBook - free, in fact, if you have Kindle Unlimited.
“A Cry in the Night” opens just after midnight where our villain, a perverted sociopath, is lurking around the lover’s loop on a hill above a Southern California harbor. He’s a ghoulish creep - sneaking up to the windows of cars containing couples, so he can better listen to their passionate gasps for his own solo sexual thrills. A confrontation with a couple of lovers goes sideways, and he ends up driving away with young Liz while leaving her boyfriend unconscious in the dirt. The perv has inadvertently become a kidnapper.
When the boyfriend regains consciousness, he is disoriented and concussed. The police pick him up wandering the streets in the middle of the night and throw him in the drunk tank to await court in the morning. After realizing that he’s not just some wino, the cops begin to piece together that something sinister and awful must have happened to the missing Liz at the make-out spot. An early plot twist reveals the personal nature of the investigation for the department’s leadership.
The police characters are just awesome. There’s a pair of patrolmen who know each other so well that they can finish each other’s sentences. There’s a Lieutenant nicknamed Old Ironhead who appears to be a tactical genius dispatching police resources where they can do the most good. There’s a sex crimes detective awakened to provide subject matter expertise to save Liz before it’s too late. “A Cry in the Night” is one of the best police procedural novels I’ve ever read as it shows the teamwork involved in a proper critical incident response.
This is a compressed-time paperback in which all the action transpires over a five-hour period with each chapter designating the turning of a new hour. Third-person perspective changes allow the reader to follow the sequential events through the eyes of several characters. The writing is smooth and the pages really fly by. The cop scenes depict a logical and competent investigation conducted with great urgency. The scenes with the kidnapper and victim recall a horror novel - or, at the very least, a dark suspense story filled with menace and terror. Wade and Miller created one of the most disturbing psychos since Norman Bates.
The cat and mouse game between the police and the kidnapper comes to a satisfying conclusion at the novel's climax. I can quibble with some of the law enforcement choices made, including the involvement of a civilian in a tactical operation, but why bother? After all, it’s just pulp fiction.
Wade and Miller wrote a hell of a lot of books together, and I have only scratched the surface of their body of work. However, I can comfortably say that “A Cry in the Night” is the best of their novels that I have read thus far. Highly recommended.
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