"I told you sometimes there's a price to vengeance that no man can pay."
THE DARKEST HOUR (1955) is the third William P. McGivern crime novel I've read this summer after SHIELD FOR MURDER and THE BIG HEAT, both of which were first rate.
This guy was good.
THE DARKEST HOUR is the story of Steve Retnick, a former big city detective who served five years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. He was framed by Nick Amato, the corrupt union boss who's out to control as much of the city's docks as possible. When Retnick is released from prison, he can only focus on one thing: revenge.
Retnick is a soulless, single minded automaton, reminiscent of Parker in Donald Westlake's THE HUNTER. He only wants one thing and he'll stop at nothing to get it. Retnick is estranged from his beautiful nightclub singer wife, who remained steadfast and faithful while he was in prison and the relationships between Retnick and his fellow detectives are strained and fraught with tension. His only companion and source of comfort is a stray cat he takes in.
But the police can't touch Amato without evidence and Retnick, determined to see Amato burn, begins to use his older former partner to leak false information knowing it will get back to Amato. When it does, it sets off a chain of murders that Retnick is powerless to stop. When he went to prison, he was clean, having killed no one. Now, even though he didn't pull the triggers, there is an ocean of blood on Retnick's hands.
THE DARKEST HOUR is a brilliant slice of urban noir. McGivern populates his narrative with vivid characters, including worn out cops, desperate B girls, vicious hoods, and dead-eyed killers. There's a strong sense of a big city in the depths of winter, with snow, ice and biting cold rushing through the canyons of concrete and steel. Retnick, a huge, two-fisted engine of vengeance, wants desperately not to travel the path he's on. But there's no one else he can count on to see justice done and so, he must push on to the bitter, tragic end.
THE DARKEST HOUR would have made a great 1950s film noir. Hell, someone should buy the rights to this novel and film it in black and white today. But that's not likely to happen any time soon so let's enjoy what we have, a terrific hard boiled crime novel.