Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Town That Saw No Evil

Harry Kantor (1924-1991) was the managing editor of men’s action-adventure magazines including Real Men and Battle Cry, and he periodically contributed to the magazines using pseudonyms (“Frankenstein: Raging Sex Monster” by Lorna Dunne). He also wrote a paperback for Major Books called The Town That Saw No Evil in 1977.

Our narrator is Sam Bledsoe, and he’s a troubleshooter for a good and honorable U.S. Senator (remember those?) who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the fellows who confirm Supreme Court nominees. Bledsoe is a tragic drunk who barely earns his keep, but the time has come to justify his paycheck.

The U.S. President has just nominated Dennis Mendoza, the Dean of Harvard Law School, to the high court. The problem? The FBI background check says that Mendoza has a rap sheet from his young adulthood in Arizona - nasty stuff like rape and attempted murder. But after age 21, Mendoza seems to have had a complete reversal of character. What’s the story?

The Senator dispatches Bledsoe to Guthrie, Arizona to get some answers. Right away, the isolated town of Guthrie is filled with delicious mysteries. Airplanes and helicopters aren’t permitted near it. Roads in and out are pretty much non-existent, so you need to drive across the Mojave Desert to get there. What could this town be hiding?

Upon arriving in Guthrie, Bledsoe’s investigation reveals a background regarding the Supreme Court nominee that doesn’t reconcile at all with his current public persona. There’s definitely a conspiracy afoot to prevent Bledsoe from even making a phone call back to Washington for guidance.

The 176 pages keep turning throughout the because the reader wants to know exactly what this town is all about. The key questions reminded me of the satisfying contemporary Wayward Pines series by Blake Crouch, but Kantor’s solution is very different but no less inventive and satisfying. Kantor definitely draws from the western fiction tradition in this “stranger rides into town” tale. Halfway through the paperback, the reader understands the town’s Big Secret, and it becomes Bledsoe’s fight for his life. I would have preferred more white-knuckle action, but the test of wills among the antagonists was plenty compelling.

Major Books was an obscure paperback publisher that consistently punched above its weight throughout its 200 releases. They took chances on unknown authors with creative ideas. And while the business flopped, the creative output was consistently solid. The Town That Saw No Evil is an interesting little novel that never received a fair shake with readers and deserved better distribution. It really is a fun-reading gem and an easy recommendation. Buy a copy of this book HERE

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