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Ed Lacy Analysis

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Ed Lacy began his career of mystery writing in 1951 with the satiric The Woman Aroused, succeeded by Sin in Their Blood (1952) and Strip for Violence (1953). The titles suggest that the books have no literary merit whatsoever, and Lacy himself expressed wonder at the titles his editors and publishers created and approved. Yet these books mark a strong beginning to Lacy’s contribution to the mystery and detective genre.

That contribution may be judged credible, consistent, and often creative. During the mid-1950’s, before the Civil Rights movement had begun, Lacy was featuring black investigators, both private and police, who possessed the requisite invincibility of the detective hero. Each is literate, intelligent, ethical, physically powerful, and sensitive, often to a greater degree than his white counterparts. Lacy believed that stories were given new depth if the characters were Mexican, Puerto Rican, or black.

Toussaint Moore, the hero of the Edgar-winning Room to Swing, is originally selected to solve the case on which the plot hinges because he is black. Lacy gives his character compelling internal struggles: struggles between security and possible wealth, between the pain of racial discrimination in the South and the pleasure of success in solving his case. Minor characters who are black, such as Ollie Jackson in Be Careful How You Live (1958), are similarly presented as being intelligent and capable people. It is to his credit that Lacy writes of black characters without a trace of stereotyping—and without the self-righteousness sometimes found in works of the 1960’s.

Lacy does at times, however, commit the sorts of technical mistakes that are common in novels in which first-person narration is employed. For example, he fails to explain why the narrator is bothering to tell this story at all and how a narrator such as this would ever consider writing such a work. Most important, Lacy sometimes forces the narrator to record the events surrounding his own death, a neat trick indeed. Still, though Lacy is guilty of all these mistakes, they are more than compensated for by the psychological insights presented and the skillful and somewhat sophisticated manipulation of time through multiple flashbacks. These shifts in chronology flow naturally, and the revelations they contain are well placed. Such clever placement of information is an important component of the consistently well-structured plots of Lacy’s novels.

Lacy’s annual summer visits to the East End of Long Island became a source for Shakedown for Murder (1958). Both the idyllic village setting and the less-than-idyllic village “frustration and bigotry of long standing” figure strongly in the plot. Trips to Europe, particularly to Paris, offered Lacy the ideas for Go for the Body (1954), The Sex Castle (1963), and The Freeloaders (1961). Work was another source of story ideas for him. Lacy once took a job in a butcher shop to learn about freezing meat, a subject taken up in The Men from the Boys (1956).

In a 1959 article, “Whodunit?—You?” Lacy describes his customary process of assembling a plot. He began each novel with “the denouement clearly in mind.” It was important to him that clues be planted carefully throughout the text and the solution to the mystery not be unrelated to the plot. He wrote for three hours a day, seven days a week, and produced five typed pages per day. It took about a month for him to complete a first draft, to which he returned some weeks later for the extensive revision he or his editors required. He claimed that an average mystery novel during the 1950’s could earn five thousand dollars over its life from magazine serialization, hardcover and paperback publication, and foreign rights. (Most of his works were translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and German.)

Though he could be classified as a member of the American hard-boiled school of writers, Lacy’s plots avoid the gratuitous violence and sex...

(The entire section is 978 words.)