Friday, October 2, 2020

The Pace That Kills

William Fuller was a merchant seaman, an infantryman and a drifter before becoming a full-time novelist in the 1950s. His claim to fame is the six-book series of crime-noir novels starring a Miami playboy named Brad Dolan who drifts along the Florida coast in a houseboat. Shell Scott author Richard Prather describes Fuller as “literate, hard-paced violence, remindful of James. M. Cain.” Aside from the Dolan series, Fuller wrote at least two stand-alone novels, Back Country (1954) and The Pace That Kills (1956). Supposedly the two books comprise one long story, but I’m beginning with The Pace That Kills.

The novel is set northwest of the Florida Everglades, just shy of a rural, dense area known as 10,000 Islands. It's this swampy area where Danny Rivers escapes two cops in route to prison. His fugitive trail leads back to his small hometown. Ducking police surveillance, hounds and road blocks, Fuller's narrative incorporates Rivers' attempts to commandeer vehicles, rob people and murder on his way back home. While this is the most exciting portion of the novel, the author spends a great deal of time creating characters and small town life for the reader.

Through various subplots, readers are introduced to a motel and restaurant owner named Harry and his alcoholic wife Marge. There's also Harry's brand new waitress, a beautiful drifter named June, who quickly becomes the talk of the town. There's also the town's most wealthy citizen, his mistresses and cheating wife. There's a host of other supporting characters that are vividly collected in current and past time lines. All of the town's citizens have a common thread – they have all been touched in one way or another by Danny Rivers. As the news broadcasts about Rivers' escape increases, the town begins to brace for Rivers' imminent return home.

William Fuller's The Pace That Kills is a southern Gothic that mixes Paul Cain and Erskine Caldwell into a warped version of Thornton Wilder's Our Town. I didn't find much of it particularly interesting, but I appreciated Fuller's southern-fried style. It works as a small town scandal story or as a "heated, adulterous bedroom community with secrets" novel. If that's your sort of thing, then this is a recommended title. I was hoping Fuller would further develop Rivers' actual crime and the heist money that was tucked away in a secret place unbeknownst to the town. While that plot thread eventually comes to fruition, it's too late in the book to have a sizable impact. The end result is just another crime-noir novel that's written well but is devoid of any real substance. Readers may want to just stick with Fuller's Brad Dolan series.

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1 comment:

  1. "His claim to fame is the six-book series of crime-noir novels starring a Miami playboy named Brad Dolan who drifts along the Florida coast in a houseboat."
    Sounds like it could've been an influence on MacDonald's creation Travis McGee, though only in broad stroke. The books sounds a bit dull.

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