During the 1950s, California author Harry Vernor Dixon (1908-1984) produced nine paperback originals for Fawcett Gold Medal who sold a lot of his books to voracious crime-fiction readers. Unfortunately, Dixon remains largely forgotten today outside the world of vintage paperback collectors. In 2017, Stark House Press reprinted two of his 1956 novels, “Cry Blood” and “Killer in Silk” in a single volume with an informative introduction by Donald Napoli. “Cry Blood” won the coin toss for the coveted Paperback Warrior review, so here we go:
The narrative begins with a lovely 14 year-old girl named Diana B. Halloran vanishing after school one day never to be seen alive again. Her disappearance becomes national news in the manner it always does when a photogenic white girl goes missing. Months go by with no meaningful leads, and finally the police close the case unsolved. However, fears surrounding this horrible crime continue to plague the residents of Bayside, California.
Enter Gary Malone. Age 28. Married. Childless. Architect. Veteran. Country club member. Nice guy. His world is changed forever one evening when his wife finds a pair of girl’s sneakers squirreled away in their basement. The initials stenciled near the soles: DBH. Coincidence? At first, Gary is skeptical that the shoes once belonged to the missing Diana. After all, how on earth could the missing girl’s sneakers wind up in Gary’s basement? Gary’s wife insists they call the police, and Gary’s nightmare begins.
Media speculation about Gary’s culpability - largely fed by the police - fuels distrust among family and friends in a viscous feedback loop similar to the one depicted in Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” decades later. The third-person narration switches perspective between the innocent Gary and the increasingly-skeptical police chief. This police procedural mystery depicts the cops using their investigative skills to develop evidence against an innocent man. Meanwhile, Gary is caught in a web of the wrongfully-accused man forced to prove his innocence and find the real killer to save his own hide from the gas chamber.
The interplay of these two competing perspectives are balanced nicely thanks to Dixon’s superior storytelling ability. However, the police procedures are a total mess. Even if you don’t demand realism from your crime novels, even layman readers will find themselves yelling at their paperbacks, “Cops would never do it that way!” The author was never a law enforcement officer, so he can be excused some of the plot-points designed to increase the drama at the expense of realism, but the reader is forced to repeatedly suspend disbelief throughout the paperback.
The mystery itself was pretty solid. Clues were presented in a coherent fashion, so an astute reader could come up with the solution a few pages before the characters do. I also enjoyed the characters quite a bit as Dixon did a nice job at making them three-dimensional people and not just cut-outs playing the roles of various archetypes. Overall, I enjoyed “Cry Blood.” It was a quick read and never failed to hold my attention. While it failed as a police procedural novel, it generally succeeded as escapist entertainment. Recommended with reservations.
Buy a copy of this book HERE