Monday, September 03, 2007

Dr. Socrates -- W. R. Burnett

I mentioned this book a few days ago. It's the kind of thing I can't resist, a "lost" novel by a big-name guy. Originally published as a serial in Collier's, now it's a trade paperback original. I'll try to avoid a digression about how much I loved Collier's when I was a kid. Oh, to hell with it. I love digressions. Both Collier's and The Saturday Evening Post were staples in my house when I was a kid. My parents didn't own any books, but they knew about the public library, and they bought magazines. I gravitated toward Collier's and the Post because they had cartoons in them. Later on, I even started reading the stories and articles. There was some great stuff in both of them, and you can't beat them for nostalgia if you look at one now. The full-page automobile ads, the Coca-Cola ads, the . . . never mind.

Back on topic. Dr. Socrates was never published in hardback, but it was made into a couple of movies, one with the original title, which I've never seen, and one called King of the Underworld, which I have seen. It has one of Bogart's first big roles, but he doesn't play Dr. Socrates. He plays the gangster. Figures.

Dr. Socrates is the supposedly humorous nickname given to young Dr. Lee Cardwell, who's set up practice in a small Midwestern town, hoping to get over a nervous condition. He doesn't get much business because of Doc Ginter, the town's established doctor. But then a Dillinger-like bank robber hits town, and he sends his wounded to Dr. Cardwell. Should he help out or not? And what happens when it's revealed that he's done so?

This is a very short book, more of a novella, really, and it moves along at a fast pace. Bank robberies, small-town raillery, politics, machine-guns, molls, a great final shoot-out, and snappy patter. Even a love story. It's almost as if Burnett were aiming it at the movies, and he probably was.

This may not be an instant classic, but if you like the gangster stories of the '30s (as I do), or if you like Burnett's other novels (ditt0), you'll want to be sure to take a look at this one. I think it's great that O'Bryan House has made it available.

5 comments:

Ed Gorman said...

Much as I liked the Sat Eve Post my two favorites were Colliers and the American. But man when you think of all the fiction they published--a lot of it drivel but some of it good enough to bear reprinting today--they not only entertained, they kept a lot of good writers in beans.

Vince said...

I love digressions, too. Which reminds me of the time ...

Randy Johnson said...

I'll have to check this one out. The only thing of his I've read was Bitter Ground. I enjoyed that.

Writeprocrastinator said...

Collier's was an encyclopedia company to me when I was a child and I have yet to see an actual issue of the magazine. Though I've seen covers, both framed and online.

Bill Crider said...

The encyclopedia company was a branch of the family business.