The third story in the “Cons, Dames & G-Men” anthology is Dark at the Top of the Stairs by Elizabeth Horton-Newton. Here is a review of this short story from author Neil Douglas Newton.
“Dark at the top of the Stairs”
by Elizabeth Horton-Newton
“Dark at the Top of the Stairs” is a story that can be found in the “Cons, Dames & G-Men ” anthology from the “Stab in the Dark” literary group. As you read the first few lines of this well-crafted story the first word that comes into your mind is “noir”. Not surprising since the “Stab in the Dark” group is dedicated to the golden age of crime in the 30s and 40s.
Newton sets up an excellent flow of patter and wise cracks befitting her subject. The primary protagonist, who remains unnamed throughout, is called to the scene of what seems to be an accidental death; the victim is the wealthy William Foster who, it seems, has taken a nasty fall down the stairs. Mr. Foster is survived by his beautiful wife Naomi who the detective and his partner Joe Wilder find fascinating and equally suspicious. It’s not long before the family lawyer, David Reese, enters the scene and his oddly close relationship with Naomi Foster sets off alarm bells in detective’s mind.
The plot thickens as the investigating detective and his partner build a workable theory of the crime based on his insights and Joe’s knack for collecting information that isn’t obvious at first glance. It isn’t long before the two see through the weak smoke screen of deception that surrounds the crime and its perpetrators. Through a combination of intimidation and manipulation, the chief detective has the situation in hand.
The story is skillfully written using the major themes of noir: Greed, Lust, and Murder. While the story is clearly “noiresque”, Newton creates dialog that is unusually clever, transcending the standard noir fare. Though the story is littered with words like “gams” and “kisser” there is a human element in the story that is often lacking in the one-dimensional noir playbook. The chief detective is a man with a complex personal life, centering around his dissatisfied and cranky wife. Joe Wilder is a multi-dimensional crime nerd, obsessed with his profession and finding the truth. Though this is a short story, there is quite a bit of excellent character development and dialogue in what might have been a bare bones pulp detective tale. Despite that, there is enough greed, wise-cracking, and snappy 30’s vocabulary to satisfy any pulp fiction aficionado’s appetite. All in all, “Dark at the top of the Stairs” is a small gem of its genre. Neil Douglas Newton