Thursday, November 10, 2005

Richard Neely

The first time I ever spoke to Richard Neely, suspense novelist extraordinairre, he kept trying to place my name. "It's so damned familiar--wait a minute, you're the guy who called me the de Sade of crime fiction."

Loose lips sink ships. So can old reviews. I figured that our busines would sink if he ever remembered that long ago review. But he laughed. "I think I was just ahead of my time."

Actually, I'd meant that remark as a compliment because I was pointing out that Neely, despite the Irish name, took a very French approach to the psychological machinations of sex in his books. Two of his book became French movies. Somebody apparently agreed with me

Neely, a very sleek and successful advertising man, is gone now and so, undeservedly, are his books. The Walter Syndrome, his bestselling suspense novel, was almost ruined for me when I guessed the ending on page two, something I never do. But I pressed on and it was well worth it. This was a take on Psycho set in Thirties and the storytelling is spellbinding. The voice is worth of Fredric Brown at his best.

I was thinking of Neely last night because I was finishing up his novel The Plastic Nightmare, which became an incomprehensible movie called Shattered. Neely loved tricks as much as Woolrich did and Plastic is a field of land mines. He even manages to spin some fresh variations on the amnesia theme. It's as noir as noir can be but mysteriously I've never seen Neely referred to on any noir list. My theory is that his books, for the most part, were presented in such tony packages, they were bypassed by mystery fans.

The Damned Innocents became a fair French flick. What it missed was the sorrow. Nelly always caught the sorrow of sexual betrayl with a kind of suicidal wisdom. While his books aren't kinky by today's measure, they're dark in the way only sexual themes can be. Love kills, baby.

Not that he didn't have a sudsy side. He wrote a couple of big sexy workplace novels that I could never plow through but he also wrote The Ridgeway Women which was SUPPOSED to be a big sexy workplace book that was undermined in a good way by the riveting neuroses and desperation of all his best books.

A Madness of The Heart suffers from a style Neely seemed to have invented from scratch for this particular novel. It's another dazzler--a really convincing story about a rapist and the human debris he leaves in his wake--but the cadence of the prose gets in my way every once in awhile. It isn't that it's fancy-schmancy, it's just that it gets in the way sometime and seems to fall short of its purpose.

I liked Neely, man and writer, and I liked his books, too. Somebody should bring him back. He's my kind of noir writer--down and out in the dark underbelly of the success-driven American middle class, like non-Trav John D. MacDonald only doomed without hope of salvation.

3 Comments:

Blogger Bill said...

I liked Neely's books a lot, and of course I collected his paperback originals. Back around 1980 or so when I edited a book about American paperbacks, I chose a Neely cover to illustrate the section on Jove Books. He did some fine novels, for sure.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Matt Neely said...

He is my grandfather and it was very exciting to read some comments from "fans." We have quite a collection naturally and my grandmother (and dad) will enjoy reading this.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Amy L. said...

Hi Matt,

We are a rights research company looking to find the rights owner of Richard Neely's book 'Dirty Hands' aka 'The Damned Innocents'. We have a client who is interested in the movie rights. Do you know who we'd contact for this? Does his estate own these rights?
Thank you very much,
Amy Lennie
The Rights Company
amy@therightscompany.com

9:16 AM  

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