Ovid Demaris (1919-1998) authored a number of crime-fiction novels that were based on his research into real-life organized crime. The author’s most successful books were his non-fiction accounts of actual Mafia operations. As such, it's no surprise that his novels including Hoods Take Over, Candyleg and The Organization revolve around the Syndicate's drug, gambling and prostitution rackets on the American West Coast. While I wasn't fond of Demaris' The Enforcer, I wanted to sample another of his mob novels. I chose The Long Night, originally published in 1959 and recently reprinted as an affordable ebook by NY Times bestselling author Lee Goldberg's Cutting Edge imprint. It's the first of two books starring quasi-private investigator Vince Slader, the other being 1960's The Gold Plated Sewer.
The Long Night features protagonist Vince Slader, a hard-nosed guy who works as a debt collector. Now, Slader isn't a debt collector that sits behind the phones and dials for dollars. Instead, really bad guys call on the really tough Slader to retrieve gambling debts and derogatory installment payments. In Beverly Hills, it's a business that is booming. Armed with an address and a .45, Slader's track record in the debt collection business is very good. He runs the operation under his license of private-investigator, and that business has now become scrutinized by two California Senators who are wise to Slader's violent business practices.
Despite being the target of a committee investigation, Slader takes on a new assignment of tracking down a gambling debtor named Russell. To retrieve him, he starts with questioning Russell's voluptuous wife Cindy. The intense question and answer session eventually leads to Slader getting laid, but it doesn't get him any closer to Russell or his dough. After digging in a little further, Russell is traced to a couple of beefy hit-men who want to protect the man for their own purposes.
The narrative takes an unexpected twist when Cindy dumps Slader on a rural stretch of California highway. It is there that Slader apparently is run over by a car belonging to Russell. But here's the mystery: Slader awakens at the bottom of a ravine behind the wheel of Russell's car. He is in possession of Russell's wallet and driver's license with no idea how he got there. After hearing a radio bulletin about Russell being carjacked, Slader realizes he's been set-up for armed robbery. The book's climactic second-half is a riveting narrative that follows Slader's investigation to clear his own name and find this mysterious Russell character.
My previous experience with Demaris was the soapy, teenage delinquent novel The Enforcer (1960). It was disguised as a gritty crime-fiction novel about a Mafia stranglehold but was really a uninspired episode of Melrose Place. The Long Night is a far more compelling story, one that is legitimately a gritty crime-fiction novel. Demaris inserts loud-mouthed, gambling kingpins into the narrative and saturates the prose with gunplay, fast cars and sexy women. The criminals are edgy, but the hero is a valid, uncompromising tough guy who serves as the perfect crime combatant. While Slader's goal is to recoup the money, the author weaves in a romantic side story as well as an interesting revelation of Slader's ex-wife who became a prostitute.
The Long Night is an enjoyable 1950s crime-fiction novel that retains most of the flavor of the genre's mid-century pioneers. If you are a fan of authors like Frank Kane and Mickey Spillane, The Long Night is sure to please.
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