RARA-AVIS: A.I. Bezzerides, Long Haul/They Drive By Night

From: William Denton ( wtd@pobox.com)
Date: 31 Aug 2005

A.I. Bezzerides is mentioned every now and then on the list. Looking back in the archives, I see that in January 2000 it was mentioned that George Pelecanos, in SHAME THE DEVIL, had a bad guy reading novels by Bezzerides and Edward Anderson. One Rik Joel Carter followed up to say he'd met Bezzerides the night before at a screening of two Bogart movies, THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT and SIROCCO. Bezzerides also wrote the film adaptation of KISS ME, DEADLY.

THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1940) was adapated from LONG HAUL (1938), which I just read. It's very short, and I have an old Dell mapback edition that shows you where Nick, the truck-driving protagonist, hauls his stuff. Now, the movie, which I love for Bogey and Ann Sheridan and some of the character actors and the spicy dialogue in the diner at the start, is really the first half of the book glued to a remake of BORDERTOWN (1935). In it, Nick stops driving a truck and starts working his way up in a hauling company.

In the book, though, he never does. He never gets any luck at all. It's a tough story, of the 1930s realist school, sub-Steinbeck. Nick and his brother haul things north and south, making no money and exhausting themselves, until there's an accident and the brother can't drive. Nick tries to make it on his own. He meets a girl (the Ann Sheridan character, but the Oomph Girl really made her come alive) but spends weeks at a time on the road without seeing her. He drives and drives, and after a stretch of two weeks of no work he gets a trip that's filled with bad luck. He needs to keep driving, though, he needs to be on the road, and the book ends with him dying in an accident.

It's a fairly depressing book. The trucking stuff is all well done, and I certainly got a sense of the hard work it took and how bone tiring it was. It will appeal most to readers of trucking novels and fans of the movie adaptation, but it's also a good example of that school of 1930s tough, realist writing.


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : www.miskatonic.org : www.frbr.org

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