Friday, February 10, 2017

FFB: Danger Next Door - Q. Patrick

THE STORY: Clark Rodman is fascinated with the apartment across the alley. He watches with curious intensity the occupants and in particular the young woman who lives there. He captivates her. She lives there with two other men, both of whom he knows are photographers employed by a news agency. One of them is her brute of a husband. They seem to know a little too much about Clark, too and let him know when in a chance encounter they attempt to make him the subject of a photo essay. When Clark refuses the attention Gene Folwell, the husband, lets on he is aware of Clark's Peeping Tom act and threatens him if it doesn't stop. Of course this only intensifies Clark's morbid curiosity, firing his imagination that there is Danger Next Door (1951) for Laura Folwell.

THE CHARACTERS: Clark, Laura, Gene and the rest of the cast are stock in trade characters you might encounter in any number of "foolish voyeur" thrillers so familiar to crime fiction fans. Clark is a rich kid who wants a taste of the simple life. He turned down his father's offer to join the family business and instead took off for the big city of Manhattan with dreams of becoming a writer. He uses Laura, the girl next door, as his muse and churns out a sordid tale of an abused young woman suffering in silence as a prisoner of her domineering ape of a husband. This turns out in part to be true, for Gene is a sadistic thug who exploits his wife in a blackmail scheme that relies on using Laura as an inserted model in altered photographs of people caught in nearly pornographic, compromising positions. As the story unfolds the reader knows that Clark will be determined to save Laura at any cost. Murder is not ruled out. Soon his outrage gets the better of him and Gene is killed. The final third of the story tells how Clark, Laura and Gene's brother Harry plan to cover up the crime.

But Ted Steele, Clark's intrusive neighbor, is complicating matters. Ted presents himself as a police officer on the vice squad with his eye on Gene and Harry's blackmail operation. He also seems to know a little too much about Clark. Everyone seems to be watching Clark with the same intensity that he is watching Laura. When Clark tries to verify Ted's identity he finds out that there is no one in the phone book listed as either Ted or Edward Steele. Through his connections with a policeman friend Clark learns there is no one named Edward Steele in the NYC vice squad. Who then is Ted Steele? And why is he so interested in Clark's welfare and the activities of the three people across the alley?

Then there is the mystery of furniture that seems to move by itself in the Folwell apartment. The odd glances Gene makes towards the floor. Was he kicking at an unseen dog? But how can a dog make a sofa glide across the floor? The wallpaper is ripped off and shredded from one of the walls in a room Clark can see from his place.  What might explain that?  Angry fits of temper? A wild animal going crazy? What of the messenger boy Clark enlists to deliver a note to Laura? Why did he return from the Folwell apartment in a terrified state talking of a freakish creature with the face of monster that was hiding behind Laura, clinging to her legs? Is that some kind of apelike pet the Folwell's are keeping in their home?

I liked the irascible forensic pathologist Dr. Talbot Trask who turns out to be one of Clark's few allies and a sort of detective in the final pages. He suffers no fools gladly and can't abide the naivete of the police he must deal with daily. Dr. Trask is interested in a cold case, the unsolved disappearance of Professor Barraclough who apparently was lost at sea. Trask is convinced that Barraclough has been murdered, but without a body he can prove nothing. The professor is an inventor of a photographic method that makes image manipulation very easy, something like a 1950s idea of Photoshop but without the digital aspect. An invention involving photography? Oh yes, you better believe this cold case will figure into the sideline of Gene and Harry Folwell. Trask provides the only bit of humor, albeit a nasty, cynical humor, in a novel that is filled with tension, suspense and few chilling surprises.

INNOVATIONS: More than any other Q. Patrick work Danger Next Door (1951) is a genuine noir novel not much of a detective novel though there are detective story elements. It's also as sordid as the magazine piece that Clark wrote. There is a perverse quality to the plot that recalls the brutality and cruelty of Q. Patrick's The Grindle Nightmare written nearly two decades earlier. I was reminded of the darkest novels of Gil Brewer and the revenge thrillers Lawrence Block wrote in his very early career. Sex and sadism mix together in a tale of twisted blackmailers obsessed with the darkest desires and blackest bedroom fantasies. Elements of the weird menace stories of pulp magazine writers like Anthony Rud, Wyatt Blassingame, and G. T. Fleming Roberts also turn up in one of the more bizarre revelations at the book's midpoint and in the ultimate twist in the final pages.

This might well have been titled Fifty Shades of Ebony. Yet none of the power plays and domination scenes we are shown (thankfully only two) can possibly titillate. It's just violence. Laura's victimization curdles the blood and chills the bone; there isn't a tinge of intended arousal. The reader is longing for Gene to get his comeuppance.

The novel can also be seen as an inverse of the Horatio Alger stories of poor young men who seek success and wealth in city life. Throughout the story everyone Clark meet tells him that he's in over his head. That his rich kid background is something he can never escape and that he should never have left the comfort of his father's house and the guarantee of an easy life in an inherited position at the family business. Here is a sampling of the many warnings and advice our hero receives:

Gene Folwell: This isn't a healthy neighborhood for millionaires' sons.

Dr. Trask: Don't go poking your nose too far into other people's affairs. [...] Rich men's sons are good targets, too. We don't want to have you on a slab in the next room, you know."

EASY TO FIND? Already discussed in my exuberant post when I first discovered the book offered for sale and my immediate purchase of that rare copy. Read about it here. So the answer (as usual) is no. In this case the book is so uncommon that I'd amend that to a blunt "Absolutely not."

18 comments:

  1. I remember this particular title was mentioned on the GAD group, some years ago, as one of the rarer titles by a (relatively) well-known, GAD-period author. If I recall correctly, it was mentioned alongside Leo Bruce's Case with Four Clowns, but that one has since been reprinted. So, who knows, now that you have a copy, you might start getting requests to scan the text to finally get the book reissued.

    On a side note, I pointed this out in my best of 2016 blog-post, but I keep coming across detective-and crime stories from the 1950s. I always considered that decade to be the twilight years of the Golden Age and never really paid too much attention to what appeared during that decade, but, for more than a year now, I keep stumbling across them. All of a sudden, they seem to be everywhere!

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    1. I had a copy of the US 1st edition of CASE FOR FOUR CLOWNS and sold it before I knew it was a true rarity. I didn't like the book and never finished it. Back then I only valued and held onto the scarce books if I liked the story. DANGER NEXT DOOR is keeper for many reasons including its early treatment of what might have been considered taboo subject matter.

      As much as I have thought about and written about reissuing long out of print mysteries I have lost all interest in starting my own project. Do not look to me to rescue the books you want to read but cannot find. The proliferation of indie presses devoted to vintage mystery reprints has extinguished any excitement I might have left for such a venture.

      The 1950s have for several years now become my favorite decade for all crime fiction.

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  2. I've been wanting to read this for years but your review makes it sound a little disappointing. But then, Q Patrick's 'Danger Next Door' seems to have been published first as a short story in the Street & Smith's Detective Story Magazine way back in May 1937, which might explain why it sounds a lot more melodramatic than the other brilliant Wheeler-authored Patrick Quentin books from the 1950s and 60s.

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    1. Aha! That explains the pulpy tone and the touches of weird menace. It's very much out of league with the rest of the books from the Webb/Wheeler late 40s-early 50s era. It has enough bizarreness that it held my interest. I liked it, but it's not top notch for this duo...or author. It's generally believed that this was one of Webb's solo efforts.

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    2. I must say I have mixed feelings about all this. Having finally got hold of a copy of the excellent 'The Crippled Muse', 'Danger Next Door' was more or less top of my list of books wanted...now it seems I haven't been missing that much! Still, somewhere I read that there's a Jonathan Stagge book that was never published, so maybe that will turn up one day.

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  3. The Italian translation Soluzione Estrema is easier to get ! Via Libri shows 6 copies starting at 4 dollars plus shipping.
    Incidentally, the Italian title is taken from the last sentence of chapter 9 : Ma era difficile pensare a cosa si potesse fare...salvo ricorrere alla soluzione estrema. (english meaning: But it was difficult to think what one could do...except to resort to an extreme measure.)

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    1. The last paragraph in Chapter 9 in the original is this: "He had told her they would work out something. But it was hard to see what could be done -- short of one thing." Simply stated and conveying the same idea. The original English title is more fitting. Laura is the focus of the story and she is repeatedly referred to as "the girl next door." In fact, I thought if it were reprinted that re-naming it The Girl Next Door would be a smart marketing move to capitalize on the trend of "Girl who..." titled thrillers.

      I thought you were going to chime in on your opinion of the book. Didn't care for it? How were the S&M scenes handled in Italian?

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  4. I enjoyed it for its wackiness as well as the creepy ending. Also very easy reading.Of course it is not top-notch. More of a pulpy stuff.
    The S&M scenes were handled similar to the English edition. Just violence which can't titillate.

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  5. Also the author was able to look into the future regarding invention of process for image manipulation. Nowadays we can easily do it using computer software !

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    1. That bit was rather astonishing to me. Considering the story was originally written for the pulps in the 1930s it's even more impressive as a feat of imagination. But I wonder if that photographic image manipulation invention was part of the original story. It would be interesting to track down the magazine version of this and compare the two to see what Webb added to expand it into a novel. I'm already on the hunt with a daily search I added to my eBay account.

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  6. And, yes, I found it quite suspenseful.

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  7. Fascinating review, John. Definitely a book I'd love to read.

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    1. As another example of Webb's indulgent morbid imagination it is worth reading. It stands alongside Grindle Nightmare and Murder by Prescription for it's Poe-like grotesquerie.

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  8. You come up with the damnedest books, John--especially ones that aren't available. And this one I would like to read!

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  9. Any dead animals in this one? I remember a previous Q. Patrick book you talked about, John. It had a dead dog or cat of someone who was poisoning animals. Can't remember. But it was a definite NO-NO! for me. This one sounds very intriguing. At any rate, since I won't be able to find a copy, it doesn't matter. Ha.

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    1. Good memory! That was The Grindle Nightmare. No animal cruelty or dog murders in this one. Just some scenes of S&M. It's always something. ;^)

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  10. John – This one sounds too dark to even be called Noir. And, I agree with you, the 1950s was a terrific decade for crime, mystery and suspense novels.

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  11. I have got to dig out my Italian paperback, I really gotta - thanks John. It has been way too long since I read any of the Stagge / Quentin / Patrick books. Thanks for keeping the fires burning (even if just for a little longer).

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