Book Review: The Dark Corners of the Night by Lionel Olay

The Dark Corners of the Night
by Lionel Olay
Copyright 1960
Publisher: Signet
141 pages

Rating: 7/10

Summary: Lionel Olay gained a small measure of posthumous fame due to his friendship with Hunter S. Thompson. The Dark Corners of the Night is an original mystery that shows that Olay was a talented writer.

Review: Like a lot of people, I first heard of Lionel Olay through Hunter S. Thompson. Olay died in 1966 and Thompson memorialized him the piece “The Ultimate Free Lancer” that appears in Thompson’s collection The Great Shark Hunt. When I saw that munseys.com offered free downloads of two of Olay’s books, I decided to try The Dark Corners of the Night.

On the surface, Dark Corners uses a conventional mystery plot; 27-year-old Jerry Bishop works on a lousy TV show hosted by two lousy people. After a chance meeting at a party, Jerry gets an opportunity for a “big score” that will solve all of his problems.

The book is interesting for what Olay adds to the tired formula. Dark Corners contains a lot of background on the characters and explores Jerry’s motivations for the crime. In fact, the crime itself is confined to a relatively minor role at the end of the book. Dark Corners is very complex for such a short novel.

Olay uses Jerry to expound upon his views of society. One of the criminals tells Jerry that everyone comes alive “… once, late in their twenties or early thirties, when it all becomes clear to them what they have to do, and then, when they realize what it is that is being asked, turning right over and going back to sleep. I did not want this to happen to me.”

Dark Corners is far from perfect. Among other flaws, I noted that –
– Olay often tells the reader what characters are thinking when it would have been subtler – and more effective – to show it through dialogue.
– The plot contains some unrealistic twists.
– While deep, the characters could be better. It is odd that Jerry is suffering a mid-life crisis at 27. Also, he is supposed to be passionately in love with one woman, but he has an affair with another. Jerry never sees this behavior as odd, or even remarks on it.
– Some of the criminals are such deep thinkers that they would be more at home in graduate school than on New York’s meanest streets.

In the end, The Dark Corners of the Night is a rarity – an original mystery. It takes the conventions of the mystery genre and adds a meditation on how we spend our lives. Thompson’s fans will recognize that Olay shared his scorn for the bourgeosie and its mores. Though worth reading, the book’s flaws make it good, but not great.

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About mobilemojoman

I have been a Mobile resident for about a decade. Working as a college professor keeps me off the streets and pays the bills. I am married to a woman (the MojoWoman) who is a much better person than I am and we have two beautiful girls who keep us both jumping. My interests are varied - food & drink, sports, politics, exercise, books, travel, Mardi Gras, and all of life's rich pageant. In the future, I'd like to learn more about sailing, photography, Cajun/Creole cooking, making beer and wine, and writing.
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