Borden Deal (1922-1985) was born in Mississippi and died in Florida. Between those two events, he attended University of Alabama and wrote 21 books under his own name as well as pseudonyms including Loyse Deal, Lee Borden, Leigh Borden, and Michael Sunga. Most of his work was mainstream fiction depicting the New South, but he delved into the world of crime fiction in a 1957 Signet paperback original titled, “Killer in the House.”
Paul and Karen are a married couple - very much in love - living an idyllic rural life with their young daughter when their world gets turned upside-down by an unexpected houseguest. The guest is fresh-out-of-prison Syd, and while Paul greets him warmly, he’s not excited to see his old friend. You see, Paul has a checkered past of his own involving a period of incarceration and successful parole. He’s been honest with Karen about his criminal history, and he’s a new man now - one with a job, a house, and a family.
While in the joint, Syd helped Paul to survive, one day at a time, without going nuts or getting killed during his decade behind bars. By anyone’s estimation, Paul owes Syd a favor, and Syd is back in Paul’s life to collect. As you can imagine, Karen is not thrilled about Paul’s prison mentor staying in their house for any amount of time, but Paul insists and here we are.
It doesn’t take long before Syd pitches Paul on a heist opportunity with a sizable payday. Paul can provide for his family, and Syd can skate off to Mexico to live comfortably forever. Of course, Paul wants to straighten up and fly right, but Syd is a menacing fellow who can be quite persuasive. As the novel progresses, secrets are revealed that make it harder and harder for Paul to decline Syd’s offer.
Aside from a double-barreled, climactic ending there’s not much action throughout the paperback, but the tension and suspense run thick. You’ll need to suspend your disbelief that law enforcement officers are willing to defer tactical police decisions to civilians on several occasions in the book, but that shouldn’t be a deal breaker. After all, this is fiction.
“Killer in the House” is a terrific suspense thriller, and the author does an admirable job of turning up the heat slowly. Two strong characters locked into a test of wills made for an extremely tense page-turner. I’d you like crime novels with a sizable dose of moral dilemma, you’ll love this one, too.
My Hollywood sources inform me that Borden Deal’s “Killer in the House” was adapted into a TV episode of “The Dick Powell Theater” airing on October 10, 1961. It was episode three of the first season, and it started Earl Holliman and Edmond O’Brien as the two jailbirds. The TV script changed the characters into brothers.
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