cover image So Many Doors

So Many Doors

Oakley Hall. Hard Case Crime, $9.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-78565-688-0

In this somewhat dated tale of murder and obsession from Hall (1920–2008), first published in 1950, bulldozer operator Jack Ward seduces a California rancher’s daughter, Vassila “V” Baird, and the two begin a steamy affair. Set in the years around WWII, the novel starts off in Bakersfield and the Central Valley and moves to San Diego, where Jack and V get married. Eventually, their relationship falls apart and ends in cold-blooded murder. The fuse lit to ignite a James M. Cain–style atmosphere burns slow, and the clashes between Jack and V often come off as hysterical melodrama. The two leads prove less interesting than peripheral characters such as the idealistic Ben Proctor and Marian Huber with her petty jealousies. On the plus side, Hall (Ambrose Bierce and the Queen of Spades and four other mysteries set in 1880s San Francisco) provides plenty of fascinating detail about the lives of the “cat skinners” who handled the big excavating and paving equipment of that era. In this early novel, he may have created his own subgenre: Road Grader Noir. [em](Nov.) [/em]