Sunday, May 7, 2023
Edward S. Aarons' Gang Rumble
American Edward S. Aarons (1916-1975) is best-remembered for his long-running series of Sam Durell spy thrillers. He wrote around 80 novels in total between 1936 and 1975.
Johnny Broom belongs to a gang, the Lancers. He’s their warlord. He’s ambitious. He has organised a rumble, with the victims being a rival gang. But for Johnny the rumble is just a diversion for a robbery. His accomplices with be a fellow Lancer, Stitch, and a weird kid named Mike. Mike doesn’t quite belong. He’s educated and middle class. Why is he hanging around with punks like Johnny? The answer to that question is the driving force of the plot.
Johnny’s nemesis is a tough crooked drunken cop named Vallera. Vallera hates punks like Johnny. Vallera and his partner have been tipped off about the rumble but Vallera is suspicious. Why would a crook like Comber give him such a tip-off?
Also mixed up in this story is a well-meaning do-gooder who wants to save these juvenile delinquents from themselves.
The robbery naturally doesn’t play out the way Johnny had wanted it to, but it plays out the way Mike had hoped. Johnny has a gun with him, which may have been a bad idea.
There’s plenty of typical 1950s angst about juvenile delinquency and there’s another classic 50s ingredient - an attempt to get inside the head of a dangerous thug.
Johnny is your classic loser, a teenager with ambitions and no brains. Mike is something different. He has some issues. Some of these issues involve women, and involve his relationship with his mother. Yes, this was the 50s so we get hints of pseudo-Freudianism.
It’s also a novel that addresses the behaviour of the police. Vallera is in some ways just as dangerous as the teenage punks he hates so much.
This is exciting action-packed pulp fiction but the author also makes a fairly serious attempt to grapple with difficult issues, such as the ways that society tries (and fails) to deal with people who refuse to fit in. Which is an issue that quite a bit of the pulp crime fiction of this era tries to address.
Is it noir fiction? It definitely contains some noir fiction elements. And the ending has a nice noir kind of twist.
The plot works quite effectively, with the tension building as the two young punks get closer and closer to the edge of insanity. Mike and Johnny live in fantasy worlds of their own creation. They’re losers but they think they’re superior.
While Aarons tries to understand the motivations of juvenile delinquents he doesn’t fall for the temptation of sentimentalising them. Maybe it’s a tragedy that kids like this end up the way they do, but they’re still vicious thugs.
This book has been reissued in paperback in Stark House’s Black Gat Books imprint.
I’ve reviewed a couple of the author’s Sam Durell spy novels, Assignment…Suicide and Assignment - Karachi. They’re both worth reading if you’re a spy fiction fan.