Review: "Love Trap" by Lionel White
isn’t the sort of story most readers associate with Lionel White. It’s a
noirish psychological suspense piece, rather than a caper tale, woven around an
unassuming architect-turned-office manager who is destroyed by personal disappointment
and envy. After graduating from Harvard, Harold Wilkenson took a job with the New
York construction firm McKenny-Fleckner. In the nine years he has been employed
by the company – “exactly one-quarter of my life,” Harold laments in the
opening pages – its two principles, Tom McKenny and Sam Fleckner, have become
millionaires. Harold is embittered by the men’s success because he believes it is
largely due to his designs for “low-cost” houses, which McKenny-Fleckner have built
by the hundreds in lower-middle class developments. A handful of coincidences,
starting with a young boy spilling an ice cream on Harold’s pants, provides
Wilkenson with an opportunity for revenge. An opportunity Harold grasps for but
is unable to control once it is in motion.
Love Trap is a sharp tale with an unlikable hero. Harold is bitter, cowardly, misogynistic, racist and perfectly wonderful to root against. His grudges make him dumb and provide believable motivations for Harold’s often irrational actions from the first page to the last. The suspense is built less by Harold’s interactions with other characters, although his struggles against a detective and two criminals add tension, and more by his psychological unwinding. The plot is surprising, and this reader was uncertain where the tale was going until the moment it arrived.
Love Trap is a different kind of Lionel White story, but it is a solid character- and grudge-driven almost crime noir. The ending is far too redeeming (in a bleak way) to be actual noir. Love Trap should satisfy most readers with a taste for mid-twentieth century crime fiction.
Love Trap was originally published by Signet as a paperback original in 1955. Stark House Press is releasing it as part of its Crime Classics reprint series in a two-fer edition with White’s 1963 novel, The Money Trap, including an excellent introduction by the author, Timothy J. Lockhart [February 2022, $19.95].
The Money Trap / Love Trap at Amazon
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