Usually I select books to read through a two-step process. First I find a likely title in An Annotated Bibliography of California Fiction, 1664-1970, by Newton D. Baird and Robert Greenwood. Then I either look through a copy at the California State Library or read review excerpts and evaluations in Book Review Digest. Occasionally I’ll be seduced by an alluring summary, which seems to have been what happened when I selected The Moment of Truth.
The Moment of Truth by William M. Goeney. Holt (1959), 279 pp.
Troy Wellman, an insurance company auditor, formerly a paratrooper and pro linebacker, arrives in Sacramento to check the books of a bigtime construction firm. He finds nothing wrong at first except the advances of the secretary to the company president, which he feels compelled to spurn. Then Troy falls for the president’s assistant, Cosima, who reveals the financial tricks of her boss and her long-time affair with him. Troy must then document the fraudulent behavior and assess his feelings toward the assistant.
This book has the makings of a noir thriller, but the author lacks the skill to pull it off. The protagonist and narrator, incessantly spouting references to battle and football, is much too full of himself. Women apparently go after him because of his sheer animal magnetism. Cosima is no femme fatale in the mode of James M. Cain; instead, she’s a fallen woman seeking redemption. If the characters are shallow, the plot is simple-minded. Nothing surprising happens (although a few events are implausible), and little stands in the way of the protagonist. In addition, the author has no flair for description. Although much of the story takes place in Sacramento, for example, Goeney gives no indication he’s ever been there. This book isn’t unreadable and could be diverting on a bad day. But readers will probably not want to go out of their way to get a copy.