Monday, June 09, 2014

Helen Nielsen

DOWN AT THE EDGE of Mexican town, where the pavement gave out and the yellow dust drifted ankle-deep over the hard-packed adobe, a radio was moaning a dreamy beat into the night. It was the kind of music that needs two people, but only one was listening ...
Obit Delayed, Helen Nielsen
That's the opening of the first novel I'm reading by Helen Nielsen, and I hope you'll agree that it demonstrates the woman had chops.

Nielsen wrote around eighteen books from the 1950s through the 1970s as well as television scripts. She had studied commercial art and, according to one account, worked as a draftsman during World War II contributed to the designs of B-36 and P-80 aircraft.

What I like in Obit Delayed are the intelligence and wit Nielsen brings to what otherwise might be routine bits of mystery business. Here's one nice mix of wit and pulpy raciness:
"Now that Mitch noticed, the man did have a newly wedded look— but he didn’t fit. He was too common, too Mr. Average Man. Not that a man couldn’t look like a grocery clerk and still be a murderer, but how, Mitch wondered, could he be married to a number like the blonde?"
And then there's this description of a man who, from a young age, did not maintain himself in top physical shape: "Even in so old a photo Frank Wales showed sighs of an impending bay window."  That is the most creative synonym I've ever seen for "spare tire," and it makes me want to read more by the mysterious Helen Nielsen.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014



Blogger Unknown said...

"Ankle-deep dust"? Really? I'm having a tough time getting that visual in my mind. Is that kind of hyperbole typical in Nielsen's writing?

June 09, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

I'm not familiar with her, but at least the first quote reminded me a bit of Dorothy B. Hughes. Although I don't think she tended toward humor.

June 09, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I read right over that, perhaps because I read "drifted" as an active verb and pictured dust lazily drifting about, ankle deep, blown by lazy breeze, like tumbleweeds.

June 09, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I'm not sure I'd group Helen Nielsen with writers of humorous crime fiction, though Obit Delayed contains the occasional wry observation. Rather, I would call her witty, sometimes ironic and detached, highly intelligent, and a thoroughgoing professional.

I bought another book of hers today at that storehouse of paperbacks, Whodunit in Philadelphia, so I may become more of a Nielsonian in the coming days.

June 09, 2014  

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