Some of my earlier musings were on Found Novelists. There were 5 of them (Phil Rickman, Laura Joh Rowland, David Rosenfelt, Anne Emery, and the fantastic Donna Leon) but the date of the last of these was posted in November 2019. Earlier today, I went into our library and spotted the Davis Grubb collection. This author predated my discovery of the other five noted novelists and is the only one that is not contemporary.
On a Saturday morning in November 1992, I wandered into an antique store in Libertyville, Illinois. I spotted The Watchman by Davis Grubb. I had never heard of this author. The book had a certain appeal and I decided to invest US$1.00. It did not take me too long to read this book and to decide that I must read more of his books. This was one of the most well written and unusual books that I had ever read.
The Watchman: Davis Grubb; Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1961. First edition as evidenced by the publisher’s “A” on the copyright page.
From the blurb of this incredible book – This is an extraordinary novel – tender, grotesquely comic, and frightening. Under the shadow of the state prison lies an old West Virginia river town called Adena, its peace and security sedulously watched over by Sheriff Luther Alt. Hearing his boots ring slowly down the ancient brick sidewalks folks could feel quite safe in their beds at night. The unexpected did not happen in Adena, until the death of young Cole Blake. The son of one of the town’s leading families, he is found murdered. To discover why a young man in love has been shot to death, Davis Grubb enters a dark tangle of events and human emotions. The Watchman is a poetic melodrama. It is a remarkable novelist’s finest work.
All, most anyways, of Grubb’s books are sited in the Ohio River Valley. Never heard of him? Not surprising. When you see some of his other titles, you may get an inkling. One of his books was made into a highly regarded movie, with big movie stars. That may ring a bell. But when you find out about a tremendously distinctive nugget from his first book, and from the movie, you will recognize it. And still today, this is found alive and well, especially among those who like tattoos.
What does Wikipedia have to say about Davis Grubb?
Davis Alexander Grubb (1919 – 1980) was an American novelist and short story writer, best known for his 1953 novel The Night of the Hunter, which was adapted as a film in 1955 by Charles Laughton.
In 1940, Grubb moved to New York City where he worked at NBC radio as a writer while using his free time to write short stories. In the mid-1940s he was successful in selling several short stories to major magazines and in the early 1950s he started writing a full- length novel. Influenced by accounts of economic hardship by depression-era Americans that his mother had seen first hand as a social worker, Grubb produced a dark tale that mixed the plight of poor children and adults with that of the evil inflicted by others. The Night of the Hunter became an instant bestseller and was voted a finalist for the 1955 National Book Award. That same year, the book was made into a motion picture that is now regarded as a classic. Deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
Grubb went on to write a further nine novels and several collections of short stories. His 1969 novel Fools' Parade would also be made into a motion picture starring James Stewart. Some of Grubb's short stories were adapted for television by Alfred Hitchcock and by Rod Serling for his Night Gallery series.
The Night of the Hunter; by Davis Grubb; Harper & Brothers, New York, 1953. First edition.
Does this title ring a bell?
Here is what Wikipedia has to say about the movie.
The Night of the Hunter is a 1955 American film noir thriller directed by Charles Laughton and starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish. The screenplay by James Agee was based on the 1953 novel of the same name by Davis Grubb. The plot involves a serial killer who poses as a preacher and charms an unsuspecting widow to get his hands on $10,000 in stolen bank loot hidden by her executed husband.
The novel and film draw on the true story of Harry Powers, who was hanged in 1932 for the murder of two widows and three children in Clarksburg, West Virginia. The film's lyrical and expressionistic style, borrowing techniques from silent film, sets it apart from other Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s, and it has influenced such later directors such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Robert Altman, and Martin Scorsese.
Despite receiving negative reviews upon its original release, it has been positively re-evaluated in later decades and is now considered one of the greatest films ever made. It was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1992.The influential French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma selected The Night of the Hunter in 2008 as the second-best film of all time, behind Citizen Kane.
Drum roll -
Reverend Harry Powell's speech about love and hate has become a memorable moment in film history. And on his knuckles were tattooed “LOVE” on his right hand “HATE” on his left hand.
The Voices of Glory; by Davis Grubb; Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1962.
In this novel, a whole town springs to life, through the voices of nearly thirty people – the men, women, and children living in the 1920’s in a West Virginia river town called Glory.
Shadow of My Brother; Davis Grubb; Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1966. First edition.
From the blurb - A young boy is brutally murdered in the Southern town of Elizabethville while five people watch. Here, Davis Grubb goes back through three generations of the Wilson family to build a narrative of terror – not only of this murder but of the special yet familiar evil that spawned a murderer.
In previous musings, I have talked about the nature of collections. Yes, it is critical that you have the primary published works of the author or subject - the “A” items. But the spice comes from the “B” and “C” and “D” items.