Lionel White (1905-1985) was an unsung hero in the world of crime caper fiction. His first novel was The Snatchers from 1953, a thin paperback later adapted into the film The Night of the Following Day in 1968 starring Marlon Brando and Rita Moreno. The book has also been re-released as a double (along with his Clean Break) by Stark House Books.
Cal Dent is a planner. Like Richard Stark’s Parker, Dent is the guy who conceives a caper and brings a crew together to get it done. This particular job involves the kidnapping of a seven year-old rich girl on New York’s Long Island. The abduction itself happens off-page in chapter one and seems to go well. The assigned crew members bring the little girl and her sexy nanny to the hideout to begin the ransom negotiations.
Of course, the FBI and the media get involved, and the kidnapping becomes one of the biggest stories since the Lindbergh baby case. Meanwhile, there’s sexual tension at the hideout with the crew’s only female member and a couple of the hoods on the job. Add an affable local cop sniffing around, and you’ve got a tension-filled, high-stakes thriller.
White takes the time to draw a vivid picture of the individual members of the five-person kidnap and ransom crew. Some are sympathetic while others are twisted and dangerous. There’s a lot of waiting around in the hideout dealing with obstacles that arise. I found it suspenseful and fascinating, but it wasn’t exactly a breakneck bloodbath of an adventure until the final act. Rest assured, the climactic ending was absolutely worth the wait.
It’s hard to believe that The Snatchers was a first novel for Lionel White as he really was something special right out of the gate. Moreover, his body of work that followed was consistently excellent. Don’t sleep on this debut paperback. Place it in the “must read” pile.
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