Underground Reading: The Cheaters by Ledru Baker, Jr
Spotted at the Piccadilly Waterstones

Underground Reading: Knee-deep in Death by Bruno Fischer

Kneedeep Knee-Deep in Death (1956) is one of Bruno Fischer's many contributions to the Gold Medal line. A largely-predictable whodunnit, most of the action in Knee-Deep in Death revolves around the crumbling marriage of the protagonist, Gabe.

Gabe's from a respectable (if poor) family in a small town. He worked his way up - and, wisely - out, making it as a radio producer in New York (allowing me to re-use my dusty "marketers as heroes" tag). Upon returning home for his brother's wedding, Gabe runs into Lucy. Lucy, of course, is the foxy daughter of the town's richest family. She's hot, rich, hot, rich and hot. In the time-honoured Gold Medal style, they fall in love at first kiss. 

However, in a more unusual twist of fate, it doesn't work out that well. Lucy is very, very wealthy, and her casual approach to money (even her own) doesn't fit well with Gabe's background or his masculine ethos. Upset that he can't buy her everything she wants, he refuses to let her pay for anything herself. And Gabe's pride isn't the only problem - Lucy's mother is on her fifth (useless) husband, so she's got a poisoned view of matrimony to start with. Fortunately, the make-up sex is great.

Gabe and Lucy's problems come to a head after one spectacular fight, and she walks out on him to go home. Gabe sulks around New York for a month and then returns - ostensibly to help out his brother, but he "stumbles" into Lucy pretty much wherever he goes. The two quickly establish a pattern of "accidental" encounters followed by defensive dialogue and sulky glares.

It takes a little while, but before too late, Gabe realizes there's something else going on. Lucy is being a pain in the ass, but, unbelievably, it isn't all about him. It doesn't even take much digging - as soon as Gabe dimly perceives that Lucy may have other, non-Gabe problems, he quickly puts the pieces together. Her mother's latest worthless husband has been kidnapped - poor Lucy is now stuck raising the ransom.

Gabe is initially a pretty useless member of the "Free Useless" team. He inadvertantly alerts the police, irritates all the gang members and freely accuses half the town members (including his own family) of being involved in the crime. [SPOILER!] Fortunately, he becomes aware of what has been patently obvious from the beginning: Useless "kidnapped" himself. And thank god for it, because if Useless was ever in any real danger, Gabe would've gotten him killed six times over.

The real story, of course, is about Gabe and Lucy. Mr Fischer wisely tells the background of the two in a series of flashbacks that punctuate the book. Initially, Lucy is a villainous figure, but as the story of their romance (and its collapse) unfolds, the reader becomes more and more sympathetic to her. Nor does Gabe fare too badly. Despite being an idiot (and a chauvinist), he clearly loves his wife and is gutted by her absence. Their reconciliation is the true climax of this book: they shag a lot, then make some vaguely grown-up promises to one another.

Despite the gory title, there's not a lot of actual death in Knee-Deep in Death. There is, however, one of the better romances (for lack of a better word) in the Gold Medal line. Mr Fischer still maintains the era's high standards for stereotypes - blonde heiresses, sarcastic heroes & inappropriate relationships - but he does so with a degree of sensitivity and maturity that actually makes the characters matter. Knee-Deep in Death is a good book, but as far the title is concerned, for all the wrong reasons.