This is another Patricia Highsmith thriller, this time from 1972, and you can feel the 1972 dripping through this one, even though the writing and tone feels a little older. We begin with a married couple in their forties receiving a poison pen letter asking for a ransom for their missing miniature poodle. The letter-writer is asking for $1000. We also find out in this section of the novel that the husband has recently been grieving for his 18 year old daughter from his first marriage who was shot during a police raid in some kind of low-rent joint, at first seemingly a underworld club, but also possibly a political organizing situation. The wife is a German Jew who survived the Holocaust. These factors play deeply into their reactions to the various forms of violence in the novel, but not expressly in the plot.
It’s unclear at this point that our main protagonist will be Clarence, a young police officer who avoided Vietnam by being a college student, and now does not like being a police officer at all. Part of the reason is that his maybe girlfriend Marilyn really hates cops. Clarence finds the letter writer, a sleazeball who commits minor acts of violence daily. And in the interactions in the next 50 pages of the novel, Clarence kills the letter-writer by beating him to death and spends the rest of the novel dealing with this emotionally, legally, and morally.
This is a weird novel and there’s lots of moving parts here. It’s both complex, and maybe a little confused as the characters especially, the novel additionally, and the reader try to sort out the confusing series of events. The message always of course is don’t trust cops, and hire a lawyer, man.