The date is never clarified, but the story takes place in a dusty town in 1950s or 60s Texas. The protagonist is a mechanic with dreams—he wants his own shop and maybe even a dealership. But to make his dreams he needs money. Enter Sam Cobb, a middle-aged man who robs banks less for the money and more for the act robbing.
One early summer day Sam finds the protagonist—a young guy who is never assigned a name—in the small-time shop where he works. Sam has a job planned and he needs a driver. It is a situation the mechanic is used to, but there is something new this time. Sam has gone in with a woman and it makes the young man nervous; at least until he meets her.
Her name is Vicky. She is older, but beautiful with red hair and a wildcat style and insatiable appetite for men. The mechanic and Vicky hit it off after that first heist and then start a regular thing. Sam warns him off, but the youngster doesn’t listen. To give more would ruin the story, but damn is it a swift and twisted little plot.
“Top of the World” is a throwback. It has the feel, pacing, and style of a 1950s noir story. It very easily could have come off the typewriter of a pulp era writer, but it is all Bill Crider. It is a sort of black widow story twisted sideways and then turned upside down and shaken.
The prose is smooth and dusty with a pinch of melancholy:
“He shook his head again. He didn’t look mad, just kind of sick, or maybe just sad, and he turned and left the garage, settling his hat down carefully on his head.”
The narrative is first person, but it is executed in a manner that both the reader and narrator are emotionally distanced from the story. It loses a sense of rushed suspense, and is replaced by a bittersweet melancholy of lost past. It somehow feels old and new all at once.
“Top of the World” is the real deal. It is literate, beautiful and dark. It showcases Crider’s broad range as a writer—it is nothing like his Sheriff Dan Rhodes novels—and more than that, it is entertaining.
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