Monday, 27 January 2014

The return of The Red Right Hand

The Red Right Hand is a remarkable American crime novel that I've mentioned fleetingly on this blog in the past. It was written by Joel Townsley Rogers, and the reaction of many modern readers may well be: "Joel Townsley who?" His name is not especially well known these days, and the main reason for this is that he wrote very few novels, although he was a prolific writer for pulp magazines. Of his novels, only The Red Right Hand earned lasting acclaim, and its fans include such terrific writers as Donald E. Westlake and Ed Gorman. But copies of even that book have proved quite hard to find in recent years.

Thanks to digital publishing, and the enterprise of an outfit called 280 Steps, that has changed. A new ebook version of The Red Right Hand is available - and it includes an introduction written by me. I was gratified when 280 Steps made contact and commissioned the introduction, not least because it gave me an excuse to read once again a book that I loved when I first encountered it.

I enjoyed it at least as much the second time around, even though I remembered vividly the twist in the story that helps to make it memorable. But this is much more than a book with a single gimmick. Rogers' prose is very appealing, and this story has often been justly described as "hallucinatory". Its weird, dream-like quality is enhanced by a compelling literary style. It's no surprise to learn that Rogers wrote poetry as well as prose.

Rogers was born in 1896,and lived until 1984. The Red Right Hand was published in 1945, and was based on a novella that he'd written for a magazine. I've never sought out his other work, but re-reading this book made me want to do so. I found 280 Steps excellent and highly professional to deal with, and I'm also tempted by a number of other titles on their list, which range from noir classics to non-fiction, notably three books written by Woody Haut. Definitely worth a look.


Graham Powell said...

This is one of the most remarkable books I have read. The point at which that the narrator's attempt at a solution at the end, which appears to be the self-justifying ramblings of a madman, actually begins to make sense is one of the most surprising reveals that I've seen.

J F Norris said...

Great book! But it has a history of being reprinted repeatedly. Contrary to what you believe it is *very* easy to find with The Red Right Hand over here. Even on the internet. On abebooks alone there are 89 copies with the cheapest being offered at one lousy buck! Seven different paperback reprint editions. Three different hardcover editions, one a reprint I think is the definitive edition. Better than owning the US 1st. And Ramble House, with the permission of his Rogers' son, reprinted all of Rogers' other novels and many of his pulp stories. But as for Ebooks this may be the first digital version.

With all the books worthy of being reprinted still languishing in the land of Out of Printdom I can't get too excited about yet another edition of The Red Right Hand.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Graham, you've summarised it splendidly.
John, it is a great book. Obviously less common here than in the US. I spent years searching for it originally.I'd like to read more of Rogers, for sure.