Friday, March 3, 2023

Catspaw Ordeal

Edward S. Aarons struck gold in 1955 with the first of his successful espionage series starring CIA operative Sam Durell. This is considered the second, more prosperous half of Aarons' writing career. The first half consists of roughly 20 crime-fiction and mystery novels authored under his own name and the pseudonym of Edward Ronns. We've slowly consumed Aarons' crime-fiction work here at Paperback Warrior, and continue that trend with a look at the author's 1950 paperback Catspaw Ordeal, published under the name Edward Ronns. It was published by Fawcett Gold Medal at least twice, once in 1950 as #133 and again in 1958 as #766, both with different cover art. It was also published by Phantom in 1954 and Gaywood Press in 1952, both of these with variations of the 1950 Fawcett cover by William Downes.

Danny Archer is a 29-year old former Navy veteran that has settled down in Southwich, Connecticut on the Long Island Sound. Archer is married to a woman named Roz and the two have reached a complacent part of marriage, void of excitement or interest. Archer is not only tied to Roz via marriage, but he also works for her father, a guy named Stanley, who runs a local factory. All of this normal suburbia boredom is shattered when Archer's old flame shows up.

Secretly, Archer has never really gotten over Della Chambers. When she arrives in town, Roz immediately senses that Archer can't resist Della's magnetic pull. When Roz leaves town for a few days, Archer finds himself in a murder investigation. In his own home, Archer finds a dead guy huddled over his office desk. Della is somehow involved, but also a man named Burke Wiley, Archer's old shipmate that supposedly died when their ship was sunk in WW2. Archer believes either Wiley or Della killed the man, but then things become even more complicated when Wiley explains a counterfeiting plot that could make them all super wealthy. 

Obviously, there is a lot going on in this relatively short 170-page paperback. Archer's marriage complications are front and center, but the moving parts begin to tear away part of the protagonist's own sanity. He begins to question his past, and the how his work at the factory is somehow tied into Roz and this seemingly dead-man-from-the-grave, Wiley. But, the core of Aarons' complex plot is a murder mystery. The cops have targeted Archer as the prime suspect, but he can't quite explain where these other characters tie into his personal ordeals at home. It makes for a fascinating, whirlwind of possibilities as Archer walks a balance beam of right and wrong. 

Like most of Aarons' crime-fiction, he uses the same locale and atmosphere. His novels are typically quiet, rural lakeside or oceanfront cottages and houses draped in a thick fog that is symbolic of the criminality slowly descending on the main character or their close friends and family. These locations are nearly always the American Northeast, which makes sense considering Aarons' grew up in Pennsylvania and lived in Connecticut (also the home of Fawcett Gold Medal). While Catspaw Ordeal isn't the best that Aarons' early crime-fiction has to offer (try 1953's The Net for a must-read), it is more than serviceable and a pure pleasure to read. Recommended.

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