Wednesday, June 26, 2024

The Evil Wish

Jean Potts, who lived most of her life in New York City, began her writing career by contributing short stories to the glossy magazines of the early to mid-20th century. Her first full-length novel, Someone to Remember, was published in 1943. She would go on to write 15 original novels, most of which have been published in twofer collections by Stark House Press. I've read a few and wanted to continue my pursuit of her work with The Evil Wish. It was originally published in hardcover by Scribner in 1962 and then later as a paperback by Ace. It now exists an affordable reprint by Stark House. 

In my prior Potts experiences I sampled traditional whodunits, complete with suspects and red herrings, in the 1966 novel The Footsteps on the Stairs and the author's 1972 novel The Troublemaker. However, The Evil Wish is a very different type of novel, one that emphasizes the concept of murder without actually doing the ghastly deed. In a unique presentation, The Evil Wish becomes a white-knuckle, unsettling pot-boiler that doesn't need an invitation to turn the pages. It's a mesmerizing, devilish descent into an unyielding conundrum – to kill or not to kill. That's the question. And it burns like a wildfire. 

In a spacious New England house, thirty-something sisters Marcia and Lucy avoid life and discomfort while living with their well-to-do father, a successful doctor with a practice in the home. The first two floors are the trio's domicile and the top floors are rented to tenants. Marcia is an alcoholic involved in an affair with a married man. Lucy has never committed to love and behaves like a frightened recluse. Both have serious social issues. 

The two have shared a habit since childhood of listening through the basement vent as their father talks to patients and a revolving door of pretty nurses. One night they hear the unthinkable. Old Daddy is marrying the hot young nurse that is clearly in it for the money. If that isn't off-putting enough, Daddy's language suggests that his grown adult-children need to get a life. But, Potts carefully, and sadistically, places the reader into the minds of these two attention-starved sisters. The reader sometimes isn't aware of what is real and what is really being imagined by the delusional duo. 

As the narrative unfolds, a plan of attack develops. What if Marcia and Lucy conspire to not only knock off “pretty young thing” but also Daddy himself? They could waddle in misery and comfortable discomfort in the confines of their own home without Daddy's condemnation. However, the plan backfires when it never comes to fruition. An unexpected death is wrenched into these smooth turning wheels that deteriorates and destroys the murder plan. This is where Potts absolutely shines. By fixating on a murder that can't physically happen, the sisters turn on each other in frustration. The finale is a coffee date from Hell. 

While I haven't read them all I can't foresee another Potts novel surpassing The Evil Wish. It is such an engrossing, all-consuming psychological story that twists and turns into a wretched lifeless state. While it may seem cold and heartless, Potts spruces up the storyline with a tongue-in-cheek look at death and the weird fascination we all have on the old business of murder. The Evil Wish is everything you could possibly wish for in a vintage crime-noir. Recommended! 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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