Sunday, August 9, 2009

Solid Shield Slays 'Em

I picked up this little gem for two reasons. One is fairly obvious, the cover. It’s not the sexiest painting, not the most evocative image. But that bold yellow color provides a stark backdrop for the death image and for the simple, brazen title.

The second reason is because of the word Shield. It reminded me of the television show on FX called The Shield. It’s about a greedy rogue cop who also is not above murdering to achieve his ends. Now, I didn’t think that the two were connected, but the surficial themes were similar enough to be of interest. Frankly, I hated The Shield. There seemed to be absolutely no redeeming qualities to Michael Chiklis’ character, even after they began watering him down following that first unpardonable act of murder.

Shield for Murder is a better presentation of these similar setups. Barny Nolan is a tough cop who’s not afraid to use his gun. In fact he likes using it. He’s a hard drinker and he’s vulgar and doesn’t get along with just about anyone, especially fellow detectives. There’s a lot of Andy Sipowicz in him.

Barny is not nearly as intelligent as Sipowicz, though, which is saying something, and definitely not as capable at his job. He’s got his demons, though. Lots of them. They weigh him down in everything he does. Now in his thirties, he’s a lost soul, not at home anywhere, angry all the time, looked down upon by swells and punks alike, and in desperate need of the soothing hand of love. Rather than being sappy, William McGivern delivers this story in the ratta-tat-tat noir staccato of 1950s argot. It’s a fast read and it’s damned enjoyable.

Putting all of his eggs in one basket, Barny latches on to singer Linda Wade, a pretty headliner at the Simba lounge in Philadelphia. If he could just have her his entire life – past, present and future – would be Jake. Of course he needs money for that, and a cop’s salary of $48 a week won’t get him a picket fence and a family. He decides to knock over Dave Feist, a neighborhood bookie who usually keeps a few grand on him. It’s not until after Barny guns down Feist in an alley that he finds six grand on him, and another $25 thousand wrapped in paper. Feist had said he had an appointment with Mike Espizito a mob capo. Barny figures the 25 large was for Espizito, a pay-off on a big bet.

Rather than turn in the money, or get it back to the mobster, Barny decides to keep it all. “To hell with the wop,” he says. He’s got enough finally to start on that life he’s been imagining. Trouble is Linda doesn’t love him, only feels sorry for his lost soul; a nosy reporter is onto him, as are the cops; and the mob has a score to settle, too. Barny can’t turn anywhere for help because he’s made enemies of everyone he’s ever met, and every turn he makes is a wrong one. He doesn’t know it, but he’s a walking dead man from the moment he pulled the trigger in that alley.

While not the finest example of terse noir writing, Shield for Murder is a very enjoyable read. Don’t spend a lot for it. I got my Very Good to Near Fine copy for four bucks. You don’t want to spend much more than that.

McGivern was a regular contributor to the lurid paperback field. His books often started out as hardcovers for Dodd, Mead. Shield for Murder began life in May 1951 as a hardcover and was reprinted a year later in April 1952 as Pocket Book’s 870th title.

Born in Chicago, McGivern grew up in Mobile, Alabama, and later served in the Army during WWII. He published nearly 30 novels, using his own name and the pseudonym Bill Peters, most of them mystery thrillers. Later in life he moved to Hollywood to write TV and movie scripts, his book writing having paved the way with several print to celluloid successes. Among these were The Big Heat – starring Glenn Ford and Lee Marvin, which started as a Saturday Evening Post serial and became an Edgar Award winner for Best Motion Picture – Rogue Cop, and Odds Against Tomorrow. Here is a partial listing of his published novels:

• But Death Runs Faster (1948)
• Heaven Ran Last (1949)
• Very Cold for May (1950)
• Shield for Murder (1951)
• Blondes Die Young (1952)
• The Crooked Frame (1952)
• The Big Heat (1953)
• Margin of Terror (1953)
• Rogue Cop (1954)
• The Darkest Hour (1954)(as Waterfront Cop in reprint)
• The Seven File (1956) (as Chicago-7 in reprint)
• Night Extra (1957)
• Odds Against Tomorrow (1957)
• Savage Streets (1959)
• Seven Lies South (1960)
• The Road to the Snail (1961)
• A Pride of Place (1962)
• A Choice of Assassins (1963)
• The Caper of the Golden Bulls (1966)
• Lie Down, I Want to Talk to You (1967)
• Caprifoil (1972)
• Reprisal (1973)
• Night of the Juggler (1975)
• Soldiers of ’44 (1979)


  1. Nice looking blog and a mighty fine review. I have a few McGivern paperbacks, I remember enjoying "The Crooked Frame" and "The Big Heat." I have a couple of copies of "Waterfront Cop" (great cover) and always said I would find time to read the novel. Never did, maybe it's time.

  2. This is a great movie too starring Edmond O'Brien. One of the best Noir movie posters that also uses that shocking yellow color. And a GREAT tag line!
    (see it here)