Just Finished Reading: The Desperate Hours by Joseph Hayes (FP: 1954)
Glenn Griffin (played by Humphrey Bogart in the 1955 movie adaptation) is out of prison and out for revenge against the cop that put him there and broke his jaw in the process. Along with his kid brother and the psychotic convict Robish they’re on their way to Indianapolis to lay low somewhere while they wait for money and the opportunity to strike back at the police. But where to hide in a city that knows Griffin all too well, where the FBI know all of his contacts and many of his hideouts. Where would be the very last place for them to look? Where – the suburbs, the very centre of respectability where they would never suspect them to blend in or pass unnoticed. Unless of course they hid almost in plain sight. In a respectable home surrounded by a respectable family and respectable neighbours not too close but not too far away. A respectable home like that of Dan Hilliard (played by Fredric March), his wife, teenage daughter and young son. A family too afraid of what might happen to the others if any of them tried to raise the alarm or fight back. It would all be over in 48 hours, the money would arrive, pay offs would be made and a permanent escape planned. But 48 hours can feel like an eternity when the wrong move, the wrong word or the wrong look can provoke a violent response from any of the three desperate men who have taken up residence in your home…. And when they leave, who will they take with them and who will live to tell the police what happened?
This is yet another book that’s been sitting on my shelves for years. I had a vague recollection of the original movie – since been remade in the 1990’s – so wasn’t 100% sure what the book would be like. You’ll know that I have a ‘thing’ for Noir movies and the books that inspired them so I fully expected to be on firm ground and I was. The story certainly deserves the label of classic promptly displayed on the cover of my version. The plot was a simple but very effective one – essentially a ‘home invasion’ to provide a temporary hideout for felons on the run – and the tension throughout the novel is very ably handled ebbing and flowing with each test of the boundaries and inevitable misunderstandings and power shifts both within the Hilliard family and within the gang itself. In some ways I guess that it’s a little naïve given how used we’ve become to random violence and sudden death but fact that it was written in a much simpler age gives the story an added nostalgic poignancy which was quite sweet (without being sentimental). It was interesting to ‘see’ the inner workings of the father’s mind as he worked out the odds of various actions and even more interesting – given the time – that almost everyone involved with the exception of the bad guys was ex-military with the war only ending 9 years before of course! Nicely tense without being too claustrophobic and a breeze to read. Recommended.