One of the things I miss the most about the late 1950s and early
1960s is the way one shopped for paperback novels. Nothing ---
well, almost nothing --- could top the excitement of walking into a
drugstore or supermarket and checking out the revolving wire racks
of paperbacks that were always present. Space was tight, and the
harried clerks often would stick two or three different titles in
one slot, so that you had to flip back through the books in each
slot to see what was there. My favorites, even then, were the
detective novels. There was a rough edge to the books; they had
covers that more often than not were described as garish, which of
course made them all the more appealing. And, contrary to the
ancient adage, you most certainly could judge the book by its
cover. Mickey Spillane was the king, but there were a bunch of
other guys working in the genre as well --- authors like Carter
Brown and Donald Hamilton, characters like Shell Scott and Matt
Helm, and publishers like Gold Medal and Pyramid. They slowly
disappeared, and the paperback market since has been relatively
tame. Until now.
Hard Case Crime began publishing in late 2004, and, for those of us
who like our murder mysteries served up spicy and hard-boiled, this
mass market paperback imprint is an absolute, unrelenting total
joy, a not-so-guilty pleasure to be devoured by the page --- and
bookful. THE CONFESSION by Domenic Stansberry is a prime example of
what Hard Case does, and does so well. Stansberry is a
hard-hitting, uncompromising writer; those seeking happy,
conventional endings where good and evil are clearly defined and
the white hats triumph should look elsewhere. THE CONFESSION is an
excellent example of this.
THE CONFESSION is told through the eyes and voice of Jake Danser, a
forensic psychologist for Marin County. From the opening page of
this dark, brooding novel, one immediately gets the impression that
all is not right with Danser. He is caught between two women.
Elizabeth is his beautiful, wealthy wife, a psychologist like
himself and some years his senior. Danser genuinely seems to love
Elizabeth, to the extent that he is capable of the same, yet he has
sought solace in the arms of another. Sara Johnson is a criminal
attorney some ten years his junior who also is romantically
involved with another, and who is pressuring Danser to make a
decision regarding his wife.
Danser also is besieged on a professional level, having been called
as an expert witness in the Mori trial, a high-profile murder case
involving a man accused in the strangulation death of his wife. The
defense is being mishandled by the attorney, and Danser risks being
held up to ridicule by the district attorney who, as it happens,
used to have a relationship with Elizabeth. Matters come to a head
when Elizabeth, who has been brooding for months, discovers
Danser's infidelity and throws him out of the house. The crowning
blow, however, occurs when Danser is accused of a brutal murder
that he insists he did not commit. He contends that he is being set
up and thinks he knows who is doing it. But knowing and proving are
two different things, and Danser is forced to take matters into his
own hands…with surprising and frightening results.
As I write these words, THE CONFESSION has just received the 2005
Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original. What more need be said?
This is a masterful novel by a (heretofore) underappreciated master
of the genre. Very highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 28, 2010