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So Many Doors


So Many Doors

The late Oakley Hall is no longer a literary household name, but he unquestionably remains an author’s author. At one time he was considered to be the dean of West Coast authors. He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and mentored, among others, Amy Tan and Michael Chabon. While he is arguably best known for the Legends West trilogy, a trio of historical westerns published over the course of a quarter-century, Hall contributed excellent novels to the mystery genre as well as nonfiction works devoted to the craft of writing.

Early in his career, Hall also wrote paperback noir novels that were unappreciated classics of their time. SO MANY DOORS, a dark period piece originally published in 1950, is one of those. It has been resurrected by the indispensable Hard Case Crime imprint after being out of print for some six decades and given the respectful revival that it so greatly deserves.

"Hall may be gone, but his haunting influence lives on. Read SO MANY DOORS, and you will understand why."

SO MANY DOORS was extremely ambitious for its format and time. The prologue begins at the conclusion of the story. It finds the protagonist, Jack Ward, imprisoned for the murder of his lover, Vassilia Caroline Baird, known to all as “V.” Ward has confessed to the crime and eschewed the assistance of an attorney. The book progresses from its past slowly to its present, divided into parts titled after characters --- Baird, Ben, Marian Huber, Gene and Jack --- beginning with Baird, a widowed hardscrabble California farmer in the midst of the Great Depression who is raising his beautiful teenage daughter, Vassilia, on his own.

V is already attracting attention unwelcomed by her father when he hires a “cat skinner” (as heavy equipment operators were known) named Jack Ward to do some work on his farm. She is a quiet force of nature on her own, only beginning to innately understand the sensual power she holds over any male she encounters who has a pulse. Jack, who is older and has been around the block a number of times, has the good looks and self-confidence to attract the comely but inexperienced V. However, the student soon catches up with the teacher and surpasses him, leaving passion, chaos and death in their wake.

While they can’t live with each other, they can’t live apart, either. Their combination is self-destructive, but the damage they wreak isn’t confined to their own lives. That said, there is a rough nobility to Jack that manifests itself occasionally throughout the book, right up to its ultimately redeeming though tragic ending.

SO MANY DOORS may put one in the mind of James M. Cain, but its characters and settings foreshadow Hall’s subsequent literary love affair with the West as a contemporary rather than a historical setting. Of interest is that enigmatic author Thomas Pynchon, who started what he called a “micro-cult” based on Hall’s WARLOCK, titled his first novel V. The catalyst of the book is the obsessive search for a woman, known only as “V,” who is mentioned in the journal of the father of one of the story’s many characters. The similarity cannot be a coincidence.

Hall may be gone, but his haunting influence lives on. Read SO MANY DOORS, and you will understand why.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 21, 2018

So Many Doors
by Oakley Hall

  • Publication Date: November 20, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Hard-boiled Mystery, Mystery
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Hard Case Crime
  • ISBN-10: 1785656880
  • ISBN-13: 9781785656880