Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Alfred Hitchcock: Stories by Henry Slesar

Alfred Hitchcock Introduces A Crime for Mothers and Others: Stories by Henry Slesar.
First published 1962; cover shown is the 1963 Arrow Books (UK) paperback edition.

I've never read a Hitchcock story collection before (there must be dozens out there, all looking very dated), but if they're all as good as this one, then I'll be reading as many as I can from now on.

Henry Slesar (1927 - 2002) was a US advertising executive as well as a prolific film, radio, TV and fiction writer. A large number of his stories were adapted for TV by Alfred Hitchcock. Each of the 16 short stories in this collection has a sting in its tail, usually involving murders going awry or blackmailers getting their just desserts.

In A Crime for Mothers Lottie Mead agrees to kidnap her own child from the adoptive parents in order to extort much-needed money, only to have the plot blow up in her face. The Man in the Next Cell is a brilliant little story: two men are locked up in a small country jail, one for a minor traffic violation and the other for the gruesome murder of a young woman. An angry mob of townsfolk are determined to break into the jail and lynch the killer, but in the panic that follows they get the wrong man... or do they?

In Cop for a Day a career criminal and a teenage killer must silence the one witness to their latest crime. The professional dresses in a police uniform and simply walks into the woman's house, where he silently kills her. Returning to their hideout, he realises too late that his partner with the itchy trigger finger doesn't know about the uniform. In Murder Out of a Hat a college biology professor disposes of his nagging wife in the perfect way: who would think twice about a laboratory skeleton?

Henry Slesar won the 1959 Edgar Award for best first novel for "The Grey Flannel Shroud". Another claim to fame: as an advertising executive in the early 1960s, Slesar coined the phrase "coffee break".

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