Monday, October 9, 2023

The Sleeping City

“The Sleeping City” was a novella that originally appeared in the Fall, 1952 issue of Thrilling Detective. It was authored by Mary Hauenstein using the pseudonym of Marty Holland. I enjoyed and reviewed Holland's suspenseful potboiler novel The Glass Heart, and was curious to see what she could do with a hard-hitting heist plot. Both The Glass Heart and The Sleeping City are available as a twofer from Stark House Press, so it made for easy accessibility.

Wade works as a plainclothes cop and lives with his fiancĂ© Betty (separate bedrooms) in her brother's house. He's anxious to climb the career ladder, get hitched, and ultimately find a place of his own. His big break comes when the Gangster Squad's Captain Roberts offers up a sole undercover assignment. Wade is to assume the role of a Chicago hood named Cox, who is expected by a local corrupt businessman named Thompson. The theory is that Thompson is assembling a heist crew to knock off a bank.

The central portion of Holland's novella focuses on Wade easing into his role as a notorious gunman. The real Cox was nabbed at the airport by the cops, and Thompson only knows of Cox through word of mouth and referrals. So, it's an easy infiltration for Wade, as long as he can act and play the part. The idea is that Thompson, Wade, and a couple of smooth thugs are going to rob an armored truck when it picks up a large bankroll. Heist-fiction is always about assembling, planning, and executing, and Holland's approach is no different. But, there's a wrench in the gears with a beautiful woman named Madge, who is part of Thompson's crew. 

Wade falls for Madge, despite being engaged to Betty, and begins to fantasize about the two of them actually going through with the robbery and making a clean break into the High Sierras to live a life of wealthy anonymity. It's more than a romantic escape, as Wade begins to question his own meager existence and potential future suburbanite lifestyle with Betty. Holland introduces a stark balance with Wade and Madge's relationship compared to a bird with broken wings that Wade and Betty are nurturing back to health. It's really quite clever. Also, in a flashback scene, readers discover that Wade saved Captain Roberts' life during WW2, so there's a devout allegiance between the two. 

“The Sleeping City” was a superb story that included a rewarding, furious finale. Holland pulls no punches and delivered some of the best descriptions of gunplay even when compared to her male contemporaries of the time. Her vivid details like “shotgun shooting ejected shells over the shoulder” and “the .38's like little swarms of bees buzzing” added so much to these combat scenes. In terms of violence, her writing of the inevitable gunfight was similar to a much later writer, Marc Olden, who had a real knack for it. 

As a bonus in Stark House Press's reprint of The Glass Heart novel, “The Sleeping City” is a mandatory read. It contains everything we all love about heist and crime-fiction. Holland was a talented writer that is unfairly overlooked. Thankfully, Stark House Press is giving her career much love and respect. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

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