Tom Wicker was a distinguished journalist, editor, and columnist for the New York Times who wrote a number of bestselling books, among them A Time to Die (the winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1976), and the 1973 political novel Facing the Lions. In the early 1950s, while working on the copy desk of the Winston-Salem Journal, he sold several crime novels to Gold Medal Books using the pseudonym Paul Connolly. He reserved the name Thomas Wicker for more serious and ambitious work.
Initially, the Gold Medal 25 cents editions were reprints of popular, previously published novels, but later they sought works by promising new authors. His first effort for them, published in October 1951, was Get Out of Town, about organized crime in North Carolina. The novel focused on a policeman who is blackmailed and framed for murder after attempting to expose a racket. That summer, he completed a second novel, The Second Grave, purchased by Gold Medal. Published as Tears Are For Angels in 1952 (it’s likely that the editors at Gold Medal were the ones responsible for the title change), this is a very engrossing tale of love, tragedy, and redemption. The central character, who’s a farmer named Harry London, is a suicidal alcoholic with one arm and a broken heart. A couple of years earlier, he caught his wife, Lucy, in bed with another man – Dick Stewart, a philanderer who runs a profitable local store – and Lucy ended up dead.
I’ll avoid going into the how’s and the why’s and, instead, say that two years later, while Harry is hitting the bottle hard in an effort to forget Lucy, a young woman from New York City shows up in search of the truth about that fateful night. Her visit inflames Harry’s desire to kill Dick Stewart and finally put a plan into action to accomplish the deadly deed.
Although the plot is suspect and offers more questions than answers, Wicker writes with intelligence and passion and makes you care about the central character. Powerful flashbacks, as well as beautifully wrought prose and a thrilling ending, help make this one a satisfying noir novel that’s well worth reading. On the basis of Wicker’s excellent, eloquent writing, I’m interested in seeing if his other Gold Medal books (Get Out of Town and So Fair, So Evil) are of the same high caliber.
You can read more about the title on the publisher’s website: http://starkhousepress.com/blackgat.php
(Black Gat Books, paperback, $9.99)