This is the latest installment in our scheme to review each and every Hard Case Crime publication, one every week. You can follow along here.
A Touch of Death (2006) was first published in 1954. Like many of Charles Williams' other books, it first appeared as a Gold Medal paperback. Although commercially and critically successful during his lifetime, Williams is now almost entirely out of print - both Joe Lansdale and John D. MacDonald have referred to him as one of the most "neglected" writers of his era. (Happily, it now looks like Mysterious Press have released many of his works for the Kindle, although with covers that make them look like cheap porn.)
Lee Scarborough is a former football player in need of some fast cash. He swings by an apartment complex, hoping to sell a car, but the lead dries up. Fortunately, another opportunity awaits - Diana James (sunbathing, attractive, utterly amoral) spots a fellow spirit in Lee. A bit of fencing results (Lee thinks she's propositioning him, which, she is, but not in that way), and Diana lets Lee in on the chance of stealing $120,000. Apparently a chap named Butler got himself killed after robbing a bank. No one knows where the money is, but Diana's pretty sure that it is still in Finley's house. Diana will play driver/scout/etc. if Lee breaks in, searches the place, and steals the stolen money. Sort of a meta-crime: no one can possibly complain.
Lee needs money and it doesn't take much convincing for him to take this first step down the slippery slope of eeeeeevil. Yet - perhaps Lee doesn't go evil enough. He breaks into the Butler house (as planned) but then finds that the dead man's widow, Madelon, is still there. Lee's considering his hasty exit when someone else breaks in - someone with a gun and a grudge. Rather against his best interests, Lee winds up tackling the gunman and saving Madelon's life. She's too drunk to realise what's happening, so, Lee kidnaps her - half for her own protection, half out of blind panic. When Madelon sobers up, she and Lee are in a remote cabin... and she's pretty pissed off.