Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review of Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by Horace McCoy (1948, Signet)

Ralph Cotter, a college graduate and and self-centred, scheming psychopath, has been recruited by femme fatale, Holiday, to spring her brother from prison.  The plan is to recover a gun hidden in a ditch on the prison farm then make a dash for a waiting vehicle.  Everything goes to plan, Holiday providing covering fire with a machine gun, except Ralph kills Holiday’s brother, frustrated at his hesitation.  Having driven to a large town, Ralph and Holiday start a fractious relationship, with Ralph already planning his return to crime after a couple of years behind bars.  With little compunction about taking a life to further his ambitions, he’s soon committed another fatal armed robbery and has entered into a dangerous game with local, crooked cops.  And shortly after he’s got himself mixed up with a rich woman.  The sensible thing to do would be leave town, but Ralph believes he can outwit the police and play his accomplices and two women at the same time.

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye is considered to be a noir classic, first published in 1948 and made into a movie starring James Cagney in 1950.  The story charts the scheming, amoral life of ‘Ralph Cotter’ (one of a set of aliases), who compulsively lies, cheats, steals and, with little prompting, kills or commits violence.  The strength of the book is the characterisation and the interplay between the main protagonists, especially Ralph and femme fatale, Holiday, who uses her sexuality to twist men round her little finger.  The plot is pure hardboiled noir.  Indeed, the tagline of the tale is: 'Love as hot as a blow torch ... crime as vicious as the jungle'.  The start of the story is excellent, quickly hooking the reader in.  However, after about a third of the way in the style and pace noticeably changes, the action dissipating and the narrative becoming more psychological in orientation.  Scenes get a little drawn out, there’s needless repetition of thoughts/dialogue, and the plot loses drive and direction.  To my mind it would have been preferable to keep the pace a bit higher and narrative tighter.  Nevertheless, the tale is a fascinating account of a man obsessed with being as equally ruthless as Dillinger, but being much cleverer and successful in his criminal pursuits.


TracyK said...

Sounds fascinating, Rob. Also sounds too hard-boiled for me but I would like to try it someday anyway, especially since it was made into a movie starring Cagney.

Anonymous said...

agree with your evaluation. Hammett he is not. Not so much black mask more like amazing stories. Its as if after all those years writing b movie drivel, McCoy tried to pack all his literary aspirations into one big package instead of spreading things out a little bit over a series of shorter works. Food for thought- this novel came out about the same time Jim Thompson turned from writing so called serious fiction to the paperback market. Makes you wonder if he read kiss tomorrow goodbye and thought "I can do this standing on my head and ten times better. You want amoral sociopaths and twisted plotlines? well here you go"