Sunday, February 17, 2013

"Revenge is Bitter-Sweet" by H. A. DeRosso

H. A. DeRosso is best known for his dark Westerns. His better work is unusual—it tends toward dark, but it has vibrant and visceral settings and descriptions. His protagonists tend to be indecisive and lost. His work is frequently, and correctly, compared with Cornell Woolrich’s bleak and violent noir.

His Westerns are amazing. They were original in an era when the genre was cluttered with stereotypes and cheese, but he was also an accomplished writer of pulp crime. His crime stories vary from readable to damn good; an example of the later is his 1960 story “The Hired Man”. I recently found a crime story he wrote in the collection Alfred Hitchcock’s Death Bag. It is titled “Revenge is Bitter-Sweet” and, while it isn’t as good as “The Hired Man,” it is an entertaining and well developed story.

Will Owen is bitter and angry. Another man caused his father’s death and the woman he loves is lost to him. The story opens with a late night appointment in the woods. Will is anxious, and nervous. He is waiting in the dark night to get a long awaited revenge for his father’s death.

“Revenge is Bitter-Sweet” is a twisty story with a surprise ending—it opens rushing down one avenue and quickly turns down another. The climax, and the twist, is planted early in the story.  The author didn’t cheat. I guessed the surprise before it was revealed, but it didn’t bother me. The writing was good enough to make it work.

The protagonist is a believable character that displays emotions relevant to us all—sorrow, anger and guilt in shifting shades. The setting is brilliantly conceived and executed to support the thematic emotions of the story. It is a dark and gloomy rural wilderness that matches the internal sufferings of the protagonist. A place that is likely very much like Mr DeRosso’s native Wisconsin.

The prose isn’t exactly hardboiled, but it is far from delicate. There are passages that feel like a dark and masculine poetry—

“The car stopped. The lights winked out. The night shadows dwelt in unruffled peace again.”