Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Book: Martin M. Goldsmith: Detour (1939)

The film made from Martin M. Goldsmith's novel Detour is far from forgotten. Detour by Edgar G. Ulmer from 1945 is actually one of the better-known film noirs of its era, though it's been erroneously labeled as an extra-cheap quickie. It's now known that Ulmer exaggerated his tight budget and claimed the film was shot in a week, although it took longer than that. This is all well explained even in the Wikipedia article for the film. It also states that the film was shown regularly on television throughout the sixties and seventies, which explains why it was picked up by the first American critics of film noir, such as Paul Schrader, when other equally interesting films were neglected.

But the original novel by Martin M. Goldsmith is a different story altogether. The book was published in 1939 by Macaulay (a lending library publisher, if I'm not mistaken) and getting no reprints until the small press did it in 2005. This is astonishing, given the quality of the book. It's a moving tale of two persons living during the depression, trying to make ends meet. The other one, Alexander Roth, is a violinist trying to get to Hollywood to meet his girl friend living in Los Angeles. The girl, Sue Harvey, is a wanna-be actress, who hates her agent and is working in a diner. Alexander hitches his way across the continent, looking like a bum. He's picked up by a strange man, who has lots of cash and smokes joints. The man dies in his sleep and Alexander is left on nothing. He suspects that if he notifies the police, no one would believe he's innocent. He takes the money and the car, but meets a strange girl, named Vera. Vera reveals he also travelled with the dead man and hence know Alexander is not who he says he is. Vera is one of the meanest bitches in written word, and I'm not saying this lightly. The way Goldsmith paints her with words just makes your blood go chilly. The hate and lack of interest in anything (but money) ooze from her.

The first edition from 1939

Alex Roth is an amiable young man, if not something of a bore, and Goldsmith gives him a plausible voice. Sue, on the other hand, is not so amiable. She's a bit of a gold-digger, but also very earnest at that. The novel is written in terse and hardboiled vernacular, and the story races along smoothly largely through point-of-view narration. The depression era with all its worn-out ramblers comes alive in the pages of the book. When the film was made in 1945, the story of Sue Harvey was dropped alongside with references to sex and drugs. The book ends in an open note, in the end of the film the police pick up Al (changed from Alexander). Otherwise the film is pretty faithful.

Detour was republished, as I said, by a small publisher called O'Bryan House. They seem to have done only two books, according to this. Detour has its share of formatting errors, seems like they haven't done enough editing for the scanned text. Nevertheless, this was a very welcome reprint, a forgotten classic that should stay in print.

Here's Bill Pronzini on Goldsmith's two other crime novels, and here's Steve Lewis's review of Detour. And here's (also on Mystery*File) the foreword by Richard Doody for the O'Bryan House reprint.

More Forgotten Books for Friday found at Todd Mason's blog!

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