Louis Charbonneau (1924-2017) was primarily known as an author of science fiction and horror, but his second novel from 1959 was a straight-up crime thriller titled Night of Violence that was also released as The Trapped Ones. The novel remains available today as a paperback reprint, ebook and audiobook.
Lew Cutter’s car has a blown out tire outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. This presents a particular problem because Lew is traveling with $50,000 in stolen cash with a pair of deadly California hoodlums named Lefty and Pete on his trail. Lefty is a particularly deadly sort - a former baseball pitcher who can throw hand grenades through windows with terrifying accuracy.
The author introduces the reader to a handful of other characters who converge upon the downscale Hideaway Motel. There’s a traveling salesman, a family of four with a horny teenage daughter, a couple of lovers looking for a place to screw, Lew, his pursuers, and others. The girl working the motel’s front desk is an adorable character involved in her own relationship drama with the establishment’s owner. The author uses short chapters that cut from one character’s third-person perspective to another. It’s an effective storytelling technique that satisfies the reader’s hotel-based voyeurism. You finally get to find out what’s actually happening behind the closed doors of the other rooms at the inn.
In his science fiction work, Charbonneau is known for his claustrophobic settings where action unfolds among characters in, say, a cramped space station. This is also the dynamic at work in Night of Violence. The author gathers these characters into a small, remote motel, lights the fuse, and lets the sparks fly. Charbonneau was an outstanding writer with a knack for building tension, which helps a lot.
Downsides? There’s a lot of character development and relationship drama among the guests and staff that unfolds for much of the paperback before the violence commences. This didn’t bother me at all because the cast was genuinely interesting, but understand that the novel isn’t a 180 page bloodbath. Well, not entirely.
Night of Violence is a terrific, fast-moving novel with a bunch of interesting characters being moved around a finite space like chess pieces by a confident and competent author. There’s really nothing to dislike about this taut little paperback. I can certainly recommend this motel story without reservations.
Friend-of-the-blog and bestselling author James Reasoner informs us that Louis Charbonneau also wrote western novels under the name Carter Travis Young. Now, go forth and read!
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