I’m a big fan of the Hardcase Crime imprint, which has been publishing a succession of luridly jacketed vintage pulp fiction alternated with contemporary noir ever since their premiere title – Grifter’s Game by Lawrence Block – in the sultry summer of 2004. I also love Stark House, a small press publishing a steady stream of vintage crime fiction by such forgotten pulpsters as Day Keene, Harry Whittington, Stephen Marlowe, Wade Miller, and the prolific Peter Rabe. It was through Stark House that I first stumbled on the psychological suspense of Elisabeth Sanxay Holding,
Holding was praised by no less exacting a critic than Raymond Chandler, who said of her in a letter:
For my money she’s the top suspense writer of them all. She doesn’t pour it on and make you feel irritated. Her characters are wonderful; and she has a sort of inner calm which I find very attractive. I recommend for your attention, if you have not read them, …The Innocent Mrs. Duff and The Blank Wall.
Her best known title, The Blank Wall was the basis for the 1949 film noir classic The Reckless Moment with James Mason and Joan Bennett, was featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 My Favorites in Suspense, and more recently returned to the big screen as the excellent 2002 Tilda Swinton Thriller, The Deep End. The story concerns a woman striving to hold her household together while her husband is away at war, only to find her protective instincts lead her into an incriminating and potentially deadly fix. Combining believable situations and breathtakingly taut psychological suspense, Holding anticipates the macabre stunners of Patricia Highsmith, who arrived on the scene a few years later with Strangers on a Train, and the everyday nightmarishness of Shirley Jackson, whose first collection of stories came out in 1949 and has remained in print ever since. Ripe for rediscovery, Ms. Sanxay Holding so impressed one of our patrons that he has undertaken to locate all of her titles, most long out of print, via our interlibrary loan program. You may not choose to go to quite those lengths, but if you enjoy acute suspense with a plausible feel, be sure to check out The Blank Wall.