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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

Blind Alley

cover image By: Singer, Bant (pseudonym of Charles Shaw) (male)
Publisher: Pyramid Books (123)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 168: PR9619.3 .S498 B54 1954
Contributor: K. Dykstra

General

Era: 1950s Author as on Cover: Bant Singer Geographic Locale: exact location is unclear; possibly New York State, given a reference to Rochester. Black Springs may be a fictional town -- we learn only that it is on the Diamond River. St. Kilda may also be a fictional place Date of Publication: 1954  |  Original Date: 1953 Setting: urban; an average town. Del describes Black Springs at night: "It's no different from a lot of other towns I been in. There's a main street about a half mile long with shops on both sides and lampposts along the curbs and some lights strung up over the road. Everything nexcept the cafs and milk bars is closed up. The big shops got their windows lighted. Two or three streets branch off the main with shops, but pretty soon they fade out and then you got houses and some churches and maybe three or four schools. Up at the north end of the main street I come to the railway station...." (Ch. 3). Del is working class (and hints at experience with a criminal class as well). As the mystery unfolds, he interacts with people of different social strata, including Elaine, who is in the top social bracket in Black Springs. Motives: gambling con, blackmail, kidnapping Alternate Title: You're Wrong, Delaney

Plot Summary

Denis "Del" Delaney has fled St. Kilda after the murder of Con Martini, and the police aren't quite sure that Del is the killer. Del knows that he didn't kill Martini, but he suspects that his friend Nugget did, and Nugget once saved Del's life when they were fighting against the Japanese. Del tries to buy time for Nugget to get away; he also tries to forget Lily, his ex-girlfriend who is now Nugget's girlfriend and is probably fleeing as well. Police detective Keough decides not to press charges; instead he orders Del to stay in Black Springs until the police solve the crime.
Del gets into a new kind of trouble when he tries to get money for his police-mandated stay in Black Springs. After rigging up a gambling con with Herman Baler, he sees that Baler is going to try to take all of the money for himself. Delaney calls the police to the club and sends the gamblers fleeing into the night. Baler falls down, the victim of a fatal heart attack. Not realizing that Baler has died, Delaney grabs the money out of his pocket. Later, he realizes that he has also grabbed a letter that he can use to blackmail Elaine, a wealthy woman.
Peters, the gangster who actually killed Martini after a disagreement over money, pursues Delaney, thinking that Delaney has Martini's $12,000. When he assaults Delaney, he finds Baler's letter and decides to blackmail Elaine himself. In the meantime, Delaney has started to fall in love with a maid at his hotel, Kathy. Periodic discussions with Detective Keough help Delaney to understand what really happened in St. Kilda. Eventually, Kathy is kidnapped. To save their skins and clear his name, Delaney must solve the rest of the mystery.


Major Characters

Keough adult male, middle-aged, big "six feet two and about two hundred twenty pounds. His hair is turning gray and it's going away from his forehead. He's got these bushy eyebrows and his blue eyes is way in under them, so you got to look mighty close to get a clue what he's thinking. His eyebrows is black as ink and they sit there on his face like a couple of them black thorn hedges on a cliff. He's got a long nose with a bulb on the end and his mouth is thin and wide, and under it there's this chin that looks like a sort of second cliff under the craggy face" (Ch. 2), police detective

Denis Aloysius Delaney "Del" adult male, middle-aged, about 170 pounds; Del laughs when asked to name his occupation: "I been a printer, sailor, bookie, clerk, bootlegger, card sharp, bum. I can play hot poker and I can work the dice. I been door-to-door selling and fruit-picking and bouncer in night clubs. What's my occupation?" (Ch. 1)

Peters adult male, middle-aged, "a long, lean, knifey fellow," gangster

Lily Alice McArthur adult female, 25 years old, singer

Elaine Paterson adult female, tall, dark-haired, longish nose; "her eyebrows are as dark as her hair, and run in long thin lines above her eyes, and her eyes are deep. A sort of a liquid browny-black and big, with long eyelashes and lids slightly hooded. There's a shadow of color on each cheek and the mouth is small and just the right amount of color on it. The upper lip overshoots the lower when the mouth is still....the nose is straight and pointed. It's too long for the face, but it's strong and got character and when you look at the nose it comes to you Elaine knows what she wants and has the guts to go after it." (Ch. 12); wealthy socialite married to Richard Paterson

Con Martini adult male, middle-aged, caf owner, owns a racing stable, player in the "booze racket"

Herman Robert Baler adult male, 26 years old, "it looks like I'm talking to a pig, because of the fat and the round nose and little eyes" (Ch. 3); checker in egg house

Kathy Colter adult female, "dark-eyed and pretty and soft-looking," "she's small and plump, like a little well-fed pigeon. Pouter pigeon" (Ch. 4); hotel maid


Weapons

.32 caliber gun, .22 gun; Delaney has a cast and a rum bottle for awhile, both of which he breaks on Peters in a fight


Level of Violence

the death scenes are brief. Baler's death scene is reduced to a funny grunting sound in the dark after his fall. Lily's confession describes Martini's death quickly -- there is a "loud noise like thunderclaps." Peters, who is not seriously wounded in his brief run-in with Elaine Paterson, is efficiently killed by the police at the end. Perhaps the longest narration of violence (about two pages long) happens when Peters beats Delaney. Following this scene, Delaney drags himself back to his hotel, but falls down some stairs shortly afterwards. At the hospital, he learns that he has a concussion, two fractured ribs, a problem with his right hand, contusions, and is in shock.


Sexuality

heterosexuality is depicted in this novel; alternate sexualities are not. The narrator is Del, so we hear his impressions of the various female characters. He is sexually attracted to Lily, the ex-girlfriend that he is trying to forget; he is attracted to Kathy, the "nice girl" who works as a maid at his hotel; he is attracted to Elaine, whose nymphomania becomes a focal point of the book as Lily exposes herself and recedes into the past and Kathy is deferred for the future.
Elaine's nymphomaniacal flirtations and escapades are either referred to (e.g. her affair with Baler) or depicted (e.g. her come-ons to Del) in several scenes. The tone of the narrative is initially voyeuristic and condemnatory, but later Elaine is redeemed when we learn that she has no sexual outlet because her husband is a polio victim. In fact, the husband excuses her affairs, having previously tried to get Elaine to leave him because she is a woman with "healthy" desires and needs that he knows he can't satisfy (Elaine has loyally refused). We are cued to forgive Elaine her trespasses by Del, who promptly throws the incriminating letter onto the fire when he realizes what is going on. This is where the original title of the novel came from: the husband watches Del burn the letter that he has tried to pass off as his own and says, "You're wrong, Delaney," explaining that he knew about Elaine's affair anyway. Ultimately, Elaine's "nymphomania" has led to Del's salvation; her husband goes on to reward Del for his compassion with a job offer, and readers can also be relieved that Del has shown himself to be somewhat heroic.


Gender Roles

women occupy traditional pulp fiction roles: Lily is the femme-fatale showgirl; Kathy is the trusting maid who may become a nice wife for Delaney in the future; Elaine is the wealthy married woman. Delaney, initially a somewhat likeable, loyal but non-heroic scamp, seems to become a slightly better person over the course of the novel. This coincides with his participation in solving the mystery, in part by heroically finding and rescuing Kathy. Delaney also survives a nasty beating from Peters, after which Kathy plays another traditional role, caring for him. Keough, the police detective who plays the other heroic role, being very good at his job, is big and tough-looking ("craggy").


Ethnicity

issues of race and ethnicity are not addressed in this novel; it might be appropriate to say that there is a general assumption of whiteness throughout the book.


Alcohol/Drug Abuse

little depiction of alcohol; none of drugs. Delaney escapes from his hospital room after volunteering to pick up some rum for his roommates, who agree to cover up his disappearance. Delaney does find a bottle of rum at a local bar and comments that it "sharpens" his focus, but he's more interested in blending into the crowd to facilitate his escape than in drinking for drinking's sake. The rum bottle eventually becomes a weapon.


Law Enforcement

the Black Springs police department is the local police agency involved. The police are depicted as honest officers who attempt to enforce the law.


Added Features

in one scene, Del tries to relax with a good movie. "There's a matine at the movies and people are going there and maybe it's warm inside and a man can sit and watch a movie and forget his troubles. So I go to the movies. 'Cry of the City'--Victor Mature--Shelley Winters -- crime, blondes, guns. I go to sleep." (Ch. 5)


Subject Headings

Murder/ Police/ Blackmail/ Swindlers and swindling


Psychological Elements

Elaine's pathologized but titillating nymphomania sets the tone for the middle of the novel (see "sexuality" above); its resolution is moralistic. The broader frame for the novel is Delaney's narration and his slow shift from a drifting criminal type to a potentially respectable working man who could be a good husband to Kathy -- the escape from the criminal class to the life of "regular folks."