The Condemned by Jo Pagano. Prentice-Hall (1947), 215 pp.
This book presents a fictionalized account of a murder and lynching that took place in San Jose in 1933. The narrator begins with some ruminations about the causes of the crimes -- psychological, sociological, economic, moral -- then shifts to the third person to describe what actually happens. The story mostly follows the activities of Howard Tyler, the less violent and more normal of the two killers. Slow-witted and weak-willed, he’s no match for his angry partner, Jerry Slocum, whose antisocial behavior the narrator attributes to a brain tumor. Toward the end of the book, however, the focus shifts to Gil Stanton, a local newspaper columnist and would-be novelist. He and others in his social circle, whom the narrator dubs “the sophisticates,”affect the lives of ordinary townfolk but live in a world of cocktail parties and intellectual conversation. The novel is most compelling in its coverage of the murder and its immediate aftermath. The treatment of the lynching is a bit skimpy and does not convincingly connect the crime to Stanton and his ilk. And the narrator’s musings, annoying and unnecessary, have the effect of detaching the reader from the story’s horrific events. In the end it’s not quite clear what Pagano is trying to do with the book. Perhaps his intentions are more obvious in the movie version, Try and Get Me (1950), for which he wrote the screenplay.