Earlier this year, I read a novel called The Captive by Norman Daniels (real name: Norman Danberg, 1905-1995). I enjoyed it so much that I've upset my bank account by acquiring all the Norman Daniels books I can find. It's no easy task considering the price of these vintage titles and the abundance of his books written under various pseudonyms. My most recent acquisition is his 1970 novel, The Rape of a Town, published by Pyramid Books.
The book stars a former L.A. Police Captain named Kelly who recently quit the force due to the city's flawed justice system. In the opening chapter, Kelly is invited to a swanky Beverly Hills party hoping to find an employment connection. It's here where his life takes a drastic turn when he is introduced to a woman named Merryl Atwill.
Merryl's brother Carl was involved in a large investment firm with a partner named Mander. After a long-term partnership, Mander murdered Carl and explained to the authorities that Carl was sleeping with his wife. After Mander was tried, the case was thrown out over a legal bumble. Now, Merryl wants her brother's killer brought to justice. But instead of thrusting this one case at Kelly, she introduces the idea of having Kelly serve a team of backers looking to wrong the rights of the legal justice system. With a panel consisting of attorneys, U.S. Senators, police chiefs and other high-ranking professionals, Kelly will seek out the cases that were thrown out of court and determine how to avoid these failures in the future. It's a unique concept that, unfortunately, the author never capitalizes on.
The entire narrative consists of Kelly becoming the police chief in a tiny town called Vineland, an hour north of his old stomping ground in Los Angeles. But once he arrives, the entire police force quits. Kelly's investigation into Carl's murder, the company the two founded and Mander himself quickly become dead weight in the watery narrative. As the town's Fourth of July celebration commences, Kelly learns the reasoning behind the police force's departure. An entire criminal army has invaded Vineland and the police were all paid to leave. It's up to Kelly to solely defend the town in a climactic finale that helped compensate for the book's rather lackluster narrative.
Norman Daniels is a great writer and The Rape of a Town introduced some clever ideas. Unfortunately, it appeared that the author had three distinct novel ideas and just needed a reason to combine them. The idea of a “vigilante” task force is sadly never really developed. The initial idea of Carl's murder investigation is minimal but thankfully resolved by the book's end. The best concept is the lone police officer facing a mob of criminals, but the author only dedicates the last few chapters to it.
Overall, The Rape of a Town was a satisfying read but definitely requires some patience from the reader. Despite it's psychedelic artwork, Daniels provides a gritty, violent crescendo to please men's action-adventure readers. After two crime-fiction offerings, I'm going to turn a corner and sample Daniels' military-fiction. He was a great writer with great ideas. I'm sure there are more gems out there other than The Captive.
Note – This novel was featured as a book bonus called “The Town that Battled a Hoodlum Army” in the April 1971 issue of MEN with illustrations by the great Samson Pollen.