Friday, June 30, 2023

The Short Night

Leonard S. Zinberg (1911-1968) was best known for his work under the pseudonym Ed Lacy, but he also employed other pen names, including Russell Turner for a 1957 noir paperback called The Short Night. The novel has been reprinted by Cutting Edge Books for modern audiences.

Our narrator is a former first-baseman and current baseball scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers based in Vero Beach, Florida named Lester “Red” Dolsan. As the novel opens, he’s just arrived in Manhattan two years after the suicide of his wife. Dolsan is good with money and has a pad in NYC that he hardly ever uses because he’s always on the road - mostly in Puerto Rico recruiting promising Latino shortstops.

Before email and voicemail, people wrote letters on paper or used phone answering services to take messages — also on paper. Going through the messages and letters awaiting him in New York, Dolsan learns that a woman he knew briefly from his past named Peggy was trying desperately to reach him. The flashback of their meet-cute is pretty great, so I won’t spoil it here.

When Dolsan tries to find Peggy, she has largely disappeared. Some amateur gumshoe work starts to fill in the blanks about why she was looking for him months ago. His need to locate Peggy is serious, and the more he searches, the deeper he finds himself enmeshed in the mystery of her disappearance.

Lacy (he’ll always be Ed Lacy to me) is an awesome writer, and his dialogue is among the best of that era. Dolsan is a tough, hardboiled knight-errant with a heart of gold. You’ll really enjoy spending time with this character. In fact, all the characters are vividly-drawn and endlessly-interesting. I’m baffled why this mini-masterpiece was published by a back-bench paperback house using one of the author’s disposable pseudonyms. This book is really something special.

The novel’s central mystery (“What happened to Peggy?”) has a delightfully-clever solution that I couldn’t see coming. Dolsan’s reaction to the dilemma once he solves the mystery also made for some fine reading. Do your best to avoid plot details, and you’ll be delighted throughout this wonderful treat of a paperback. Highest recommendation. 

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