Peter Rabe,
Anatomy of a Killer/A Shroud for Jesso
(Stark House Noir Classics, 2008)

One of the most welcome trends in mystery fiction today is the reissue of classic noir novels from the 1940s and '50s. Both Hard Case Crime out of New York and Stark House Press in California have active reissue series, and the books they've brought back into print are welcome indeed.

Peter Rabe was one of the stars of Gold Medal books in the '50s, a publisher of paperback originals who brought us such fine writers as John D. MacDonald, Lawrence Block and Donald Hamilton. Rabe had quite a background. Originally from Germany, he came to the U.S. to escape the Nazis in 1938 and earned a Ph.D. in psychology. He began writing and churned out a series of 25 novels between 1955 and 1967, 18 of them in the five-year period between 1955 and 1960. All have been long out of print, but now Stark House has reissued two of his best in a single volume, double-novel format.

Anatomy of a Killer is about Sam Jordan, a professional hit man, who runs into trouble when he violates his own rules. First, he returns from one job and immediately goes out on another without taking his normal break to get his head together. Naturally, he discovers the job isn't as simple as he thought it would be and is complicated by Jordan falling in love and making the classic mistake of a professional killer: he begins to feel. At that point, the plot takes a few unexpected turns and the novel really gets interesting.

With Rabe, you never know how the plot is going to unfold; he is a master at setting out on a journey and then taking his passengers down twisting, turning roads in direction we could not anticipate.

A Shroud for Jesso offers up the story of a gangster, Jack Jesso, who is in trouble with his syndicate bosses. As a test, he is given a simple assignment: to locate a missing man for a client. Jesso locates the man easily, but his boss doublecrosses him and Jesso finds himself trying to stay alive in Germany, a country where he knows no one and cannot speak the language. Before he knows what is happening, Jesso finds himself involved in international espionage, a game where no one is who he appears to be and everyone is dangerous.

Again, Rabe plays his favorite card; Jesso's problems really begin when he develops feelings for a woman.

Peter Rabe's books are just too much fun. He is back in a big way, having become the biggest-selling author at Stark House. Read these titles and you'll be scouring thre used paperback shelves for more.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

16 August 2008

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