'The Red Right Hand' pbk cover art
A classic mystery novel has just received some well-deserved new appreciation, S. T. Karnick writes.

A new appreciation of the classic 1945 mystery novel The Red Right Hand, by Joel Townsley Rogers, is available at the Pulp Serenade site. The critic overemphasizes the disorienting effect Rogers deliberately created through his prose and narrative structure, praising the book with the dubious and fashionable description of "disturbing," but his description of its brilliance is accurate and correctly laudatory:

A hallucinatory account of one devilish night on the back roads of New England with a murderous maniac on the loose, Joel Townsley Rogers’ The Red Right Hand (Simon and Schuster, 1945) is the rare psychological thriller that actually disturbs the reader’s equilibrium. All sense of balance and logic is sent on a tailspin that moves further and further off course, never righting itself. Even in its wonderfully and preposterously slapstick finale, The Red Right Hand abides by no rules and leaves you flabbergasted as to how such a fiendish novel could ever be assembled by a sane mind.

Surrealism was a powerful element of U.S. mystery fiction during the Golden Age of the 1920s-’40s, and Rogers was a very skilled purveyor of the form in his few novels and numerous stories. The Pulp Serenade critic includes an interesting and valuable discussion of the book’s structure, which some critics have found confusing. He correctly points out that the structure is actually a strength of the book:

Structurally, The Red Right Hand defies every accepted convention. The narrative is not an “arc” but, instead, a conical wrap-around, like a carousel of horror that switches horses trying to find the perfect viewpoint, but never finding it. The few flashbacks are brief and serve only to contextualize the central murder. Much like [the book’s detective character, Dr. Henry[ Riddle, the author refuses to allow the reader’s mind to wander from this surreal, fiendish plot for even a second.

Rogers’s book is by no means conventional in any way on the surface, yet its unusual structure and evocative prose are accompanied by skillful and appealing employment of traditional mystery fiction characteristics of the time, making the book accessible to readers who are up to the challenge of its original aspects.

The Red Right Hand is a quite unique novel, brilliantly true to life and to human nature and the human condition. It splendidly evokes the grotesque condition of the world, and in particular the United States, during World War II, while tying those to basic themes contemporary readers can well appreciate. It is well worth reading.

The Red Right Hand, by Joel Townsley Rogers: Highly Recommended