Dead Wrong Larry Holden (1957)
Dead Wrong is a decent breezy crime read, a kind of near-noir. It would have made a good movie but none of Holden’s novels were filmed. Although, Holden, a pseudonym for Lorenz Heller, did write for TV under the name Burt Sims, just not adaptations of his own books. This novel has similarities in plot to The Maltese Falcon. The scenario is familiar but there are a couple of nice twists that energise the story and a few passages of superb writing. Of course, Holden is no Hammett but he is a good writer and Dead Wrong is entertaining, it’s a solid confection of tension, surprise, romance, double cross and murder, all delivered with style. Dead Wrong has a compact narrative, plenty of authentic dialogue and a touch of humour. Holden is at his best describing verbal confrontation, intense scenes in confined spaces are his forte, particularly outstanding is the first meeting between a man who realises he’s in the frame for murder and the cold, hard hearted detective bent on putting him away – it’s clever and subversive. Dead Wrong opens with a package going missing, a murder soon follows, an innocent man is in the frame and a cop with a touch of the Javert about him is on his tail.
I came to this story off the back of reviewing two novels by the same author using a different pen name, Frederick Lorenz, (review published on Crime Time UK*). Those novels were unlike Dead Wrong in style, almost organically evolving stories arising from continual conflict between the central characters. Dead Wrong doesn’t have that spontaneity, this is a linear, structured murder mystery; the story of a man trying to clear his name, but it has tension and is more accessible and easily recognisable as a crime novel. The denouement is a poetic and rewarding finish to the story.
Newark – Joe Malone hasn’t seen Harry Loomis in eighteen months. Out of the blue Harry rings to say he’s coming round and he’s sent a parcel ahead that should with Joe soon. The parcel is important Joe should look after it carefully. The parcel never arrives, Joe figures he’ll tell Harry that when he sees him. Harry should show up around 10.30pm but he’s unreliable, he might duck into a bar on the way, could easily arrive with a girl in tow or need bailing out of jail. Harry is chief mate on a freighter transporting goods from Newark, NJ, to the West Coast returning laden with lumber from Washington state. Harry doesn’t show but his daughter Claire does, a pretty young woman looking embarrassed. She hasn’t seen her father since he walked out on her and her mom twenty years before. Harry is leaving the boats for good and he’s promised Claire a new start. They wait for Harry.
‘“You’re very nice,” she murmured.
I knew damned well I wasn’t but for a minute she made me think I could learn how.’
Eventually Joe and Claire head to the dock, Harry’s not there but the watchman never saw him leave. Joe’s takes Claire back to her hotel. When he gets back to his flat it’s been tossed and he gets sapped, when he comes round he doesn’t call the cops. Next morning he drives to Trenton for work, he rings Claire throughout the day but can’t reach her. Eventually lieutenant Flavin and Sgt Gilman of Homicide turn up at Joe’s place. Harry has been murdered and Joe is in the frame. Holden weaves a little misdirection in to spice the plot.
There are some common features with the Frederick Lorenz novels I mentioned: Holden is strong on the fight game, the sea, hard drinking, and intense interactions. Lieutenant Flavin is a genuinely nasty cop and Joe and Claire are well sketched and intriguing characters. This novel doesn’t set the world on fire but it’ll keep you turning the page.
Larry Holden, (Lorenz Heller, 1910-1965), also wrote as Laura Hale.
A Stark House Press Black Gat Book 22/6/20, 9781951473037.