Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, September 29, 2022


 To Hide a Rogue by Thomas Walsh (1964)

Walsh (1908-1984) began hiss fiction career in 1933 with stories in Black Mask and Mystery League.  Within two years, while still contributing to the pulps, he began selling stories to the slicks, which became his major market through the Forties and well into the Ssixties, with twenty-five stories in Colliers and thirty-one in The Saturday Evening Post. as well as stories in Comsopolitan, Good Houskeeping, and other prominent magazines of the time. Walsh's obituary stated that he pubished about fifty short stories, but the actual number was over a hundred.   His first book, Nightmare in Manhattan (serialized in The Saturday Evening Post in 1949 and published in book form the following year) won an Edgar Award for Best First Mystery and was filmed as Union Station (1950).  His short story"Chance After Chance" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, November 1977) brought him his second Edgar.  In all, Walsh published eleven novels, stopping when his when passed away in 1968.  A few years later he began writing again, short stories of this time, publishing nearly two dozen in EQMM.

Walsh's specialty was police stories.  Dorothy B. Hughes was a fan, writing, "There has been no better writer of the police story, and there has never been a better writer of the streets of New York...His books stand the true test of expertness:  they can be read today not as dated material but with the same zest as when first published."  Not to disparage Hughes (she wrote this years ago), but portions of To Hide a Rogue are dated, including a brief reference to the main protagonist's homophobia (common at the time of writing) and a minor misconception of how drive-in movie theaters work (off-putting problably only to me).  But these are minor quibbles.  To Hide a Rogue is a fast-paced, claustrophobic thriller thriller that is unputdownable.  I read it in one session, turning each page hungrily.

  Meg Ryan is a charge nurse.  Despite a hidden past, she is a hard-working, efficient and dedicated nurse with a decent core of kindness and empathy.  Her latest patient was Harry McKenna, a subway cop who had been shot during a robbery in which another siby man had been killed.  Harry spent three weeks in the hospital under Meg's care and then two additional weeks resting at home.  Durng thay time he fell in love with her, and she with him.  Harry is a hard-nosed and intelligent cop, but when he finally goes back to work as a night patrol supervisor for the Triboro Subway Police his thoughts are on Meg.  After his shift, he finds Meg cowering at his doorstep in fear, unable to speak.  He brings her in and tries to settle her down.  Eventually he learns that she has been frightened by a man hanging outside her apartment that night, a man with a distinct limp.  She could not explain why she was frightened and eventually she convinces Harry (and possibly herself) that it was just he imagination getting away from her.  Harry, always being straight forward, inadvisedly takes this time to declare his locve for Meg and asks her to marry him.   She rejects him and leaves, although not without indicatingthat she still has kind feelings toward him.

Although Meg does not realize it, the limping man is someone from her past -- someone who wants to destroy her.  He sends Harry an anonymous letter claiming that in Meg's troubled past in Chicago she had an affair with a married man, had a child by him, and then escaped to start her present life in New York.  Meanwhile, the limping man has managed to gain two accomplices with promises of money that he claims Meg owes him.  They are Al, in his forties, and Leon, a tough punk in his late teens.  The limping man, who was known only as "Whitey," has Al drive him to an old church where he claimmed he would get the money from Meg.  There, Whitey climbs up the bell tower and, with a long-range rifle, shoots a subway operator through the head as his train passes nearby.  He tells Al what he did and that Al, having driven him there, is now an accomplice to murder.  

He then has Leon call Meg with a phony story about Harry being seriously injured in a subway accident and wanting to see her.   Meg gathers her things and rushes out of her apartment.  Whitey and his accomplices are waiting for her and Al hits her on the head -- perhap a bit too hard -- and they carry her unnconscious boy off.   Leon goes to Meg's apartment, openes a suitcase on her bed and begins to throw some of her clothes in it, along with a stack of incriminating letters.  He has Leon drop a note at the door of the head of the subway workers' union, demanding $20,000 or the murders of subway workers would continue.  Leon  also dropped Meg's keys nearby in an attempt to implicate her.  Now Meg is set up, with an unknown lover, to take the fall for the subway murder and the ransom attempt.

Harry falls for this cockandbull story at first, then his love for Meg allows him so find some holes in the setup.  Harry has to find out who is responsible and why, and he must find Meg and reconcile himself with her past, all the time hoping that she has not been murdered.  This leads to a wild, prolonged, and bloody chase through the city's subway system with apparent failure at every turn, culminating in a stunning and violent climax.  

A good read with a solid working knowledge of the city, its police, and its subway system, told with a reporter's eye, with most of the action taking place over a single day.  Recommended.

1 comment:

  1. Homophobia was so common in novels and even in TV shows from not that long ago. Witness THREE'S COMPANY for one. Yikes. This sounds good though. I do love police plots.