Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Whisper Town - Judson Phillips

I was sorting out my bookshelves (more a cull than a rearrangement) and found several books I didn't know I had, of which this was one.  I have no idea when I acquired it and, having now read it, I'm pretty sure I didn't read it at the time of acquisition.

What a treasure!  Phillips 1903-1985 wrote mystery thrillers for sixty years.  Under his real name, and the pseudonym Hugh Pentecost, he is said to have turned out a hundred novels.  If they're all as good as Whisper Town, he is ripe for rediscovery.

This is classic American noir - a small town where everyone knows everyone else but each only knows a little of the other's secrets.  It starts with an accident, a drunk-drive hit-and-run, but becomes a witch-hunt into the teacher behind the high school's sex education programme, then it becomes a murder.  It all takes place over a single week.  Every element is fully resolved, but the device by which Philips delivers the final denouement is breathtaking - every bit as good as the twist in Nesbo's Headhunters.  I really should have spotted it, especially as the character has my mother's maiden name, which is also my stage name, but I didn't and I like to think that is because of Phillip's mastery of his craft rather than me not paying proper attention.

The writing itself is an object lesson of how these things should be done.  No frills, no affectations, yet every sentence and every phrase refined to deliver the ultimate impact.  As an example, check out the last half-page of Part One, page 70 in this edition.

I'm happy to say I also have another Phillips novel I didn't know I had, which I shall be reading imminently.  But then what shall I do?  I'm afraid - lightened bookshelves notwithstanding - I shall have to acquire more.  I owe it to myself.

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