ANATOMY OF A KILLER –
A SHROUD FOR JESSO
By Peter Rabe
Stark House Noir Classics
This is the second Stark House title I’ve read and I remain impressed big time. Each of their titles not only offers up two classic noir pulp novels, but they are accompanied by informative articles and essays on the authors’ lives. This volume has a closing piece on Rabe by Donald Westlake. If you are a fan of this genre, you should be hunting up each and every one of these books. They do not disappoint.
In ANATOMY OF A KILLER, Rabe delivers a cutting edge noir thriller with his use language. His sentences are short, stabbing declarative burst that keep the reader glued to the action. At the same time, he keeps his main character, Sam Jordan in sharp focus. Jordan is a man comfortable with the routines of his life as a hired gun for the mob. When, immediately after a successful hit, he is given another assignment, things begin to unravel quickly. The job must be carried out immediately without any preliminary scouting having been done. It is up to Jordan to personally case out the intended mark; something he has never done before.
Thrown off of his established routine, Jordan finds himself floundering. He begins to have doubts about his life and career. All of which are then compounded when he meets and falls for Betty, a simple girl working as a waitress. Jordan begins to see other futures for himself and these self-induced dreams cloud his work. He botches the hit and soon his employers are wondering if he’s become a loose canon.
This is not an easy book to grasp, as I indicated earlier. Rabe’s style is lean and brutal. Yet it enthralls and pulls the reader into a tightly woven web until you find yourself unable to put the book down, desperately demanding to know Jordan’s ultimate fate. This is classic noir; one of the best I’ve ever encountered.
A SHROUD FOR JESSO is a book that starts down one trail and quickly veers off into a totally different one. After World War II, Jack Jesso is a New York tough guy who has been muscled out of his own syndicate by the Mob. Angry and wanting some payback, he is manipulated into working for Kator, a former Nazi aristocrat who is selling American weapons secrets to the Soviets. Finding himself kidnapped, Jesso manages to avoid being executed by bluffing his captors into believing he has information vital to their operation. Once they arrive in Germany, again the plot takes a sharp twist when Jesso meets the Kator’s beautiful sister, Rennette.
A classic femme fatale, Rennette soon becomes Jesso’s overriding obsession, to possess her, and her brother’s money. She is ultimately his downfall, as he is blind to the vulnerability she has created in him. People, like tigers, don’t change their spots. In the end Jesso isn’t as smart as he thought he was and his doom predicable from the second he locks eyes on the woman. Again, noir fiction with style and grace and plenty of punch. A certified psychologist, writer Peter Rabe knew what made people tick and he explored those dark, twisted shadows in his amazing stories.