Eighty Dollars to Stamford (1975) by Lucille Fletcher

This is another Xavier recommended read, which has a narrative style where you’re not quite sure what to expect. In some ways the book’s blue print uses a number of familiar tropes, yet at various stages in the plot the narrative could go one of several ways and the way it goes is not necessarily one that you would expect.

The story centres on David Marks, who is a school teacher by day and a taxi driver by night, the latter job picked up as a way of coming to terms with his wife’s death 6 months previously, when she was killed by a hit and run accident. At the start of the book David thinks he is in luck when a woman gives him an $80 fare for a return trip to a rural property near Stamford in Connecticut. It’s not long before he is attracted to her and definitely intrigued by the trip, which she has asked complete secrecy for. Why is the property she is going to have no lights on? Why can’t he take his car up the drive way? Things get even more peculiar when a few nights later the passenger, the trip and the secrecy are repeated. When it gets to the third trip and David patience and curiosity are at melting point, events take a dark and sinister turn, leaving him in a dangerous situation. The rest of story looks at his attempts to extricate himself from the mess as his circumstances get worse, as well as find out the truth about the woman he drove all those times.

Overall Thoughts

This is quite a short tale by Fletcher, only 150 pages, yet I think she packs a lot of action and emotion into it and in quite a cinematic way as well, based on how the chapters progress from one another. In some ways I equally see this novel as a variation on the heroine in jeopardy subgenre, with David taking on the stereotypical heroine in distress’s role. There are indeed moments where you want to shout things out such as ‘Don’t go into that house!,’ yet I would say the emotional aspect of the piece is played out differently due to David’s grief over his wife, which is actually well depicted. I also enjoyed the approach David takes to trying to extricate himself from the trouble he is in, with elements of amateur sleuthing and Baker Street Irregulars coming into it. I think the time this book was written also effects how it employs the subgenre it is riffing on, as we have unemotional, sparse and stark clipped comments on the troubled lives of David’s students and there is also an interesting reference to one character’s experiences of the Holocaust.

Perhaps the one character I struggled with in this book is David’s female passenger, who at points is quite frankly a pain in the butt and at these points I could have happily written her off as a clichéd character. However it all comes to the ending, where such a character can finally be seen in a different light and this is also an ending where I had a definite face palm moment when a twist is unfurled at David and the readers, yet the reader should not be so surprised as I was, as of course there is a clue given to them very early on about it and it is even repeated at later stages. It is also a given that I completely missed this clue and was therefore thoroughly surprised. The ambiguous ending also worked well for me as I felt it closed with an open ending, but in such a way that the reader still has a resolution. I am aware of one of Fletcher’s novels, Sorry, Wrong Number, which has been adapted for film, so I was wondering if this one also got adapted as it is definitely an apt text for adaptation and is one that would actually chime in with current TV/film trends. Fingers crossed one of my more informed readers will fill in the answer to this question. Anyways, regardless, as my final rating shows this was another good read. I seem to be on a roll!

Rating: 4.5/5

17 comments

  1. It has indeed been adapted for the screen. As I was reading your synopsis, I was thinking, “Bloody hell! This sounds familiar. But I’m sure I haven’t read the book . . .”

    I’ve just checked and the movie adaptation is Hit and Run (1983). I remember the movie (dimly) as being a bit amateurish but, because of the setup, rather fascinating despite the clumsiness. I must give the novel a try.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had a feeling you might be the one to know whether it had been adapted or not, though it seems it might be best to stick with the book by the sounds of it. The difficulty I think would be capturing the complexity of the female passenger, as it would be very easy for script writers to over simplify her character and replace it with stereotypes (a problem which has cropped up in some of the recent Christie adaptations in my opinion.)

      Like

      • Oddly enough, I’d gone through the whole process of recognizing the plot and digging out the movie info before I finished reading your piece . . . to discover your comment about wanting to know of any movie adaptations. Here, fyi, is the entry on the movie from the Finest Film Noir Encyclopedia Wot Was Ever Written (Accept No Substitute):

        Hit and Run (1983)
        US / 94 minutes / color / Comworld, Movie Making Dir & Pr: Charles Braverman Scr: Don Enright Story: Eighty Dollars to Stamford (1975) by Lucille Fletcher Cine: Tony Mitchell Cast: Paul Perri, Claudia Cron, Will Lee, Bart Braverman, Vera Lockwood, Donald Symington, E. Brian Dean.
        Schoolteacher David Marks (Perri), moonlighting as an NYC cabby, is hired repeatedly by femme fatale Diana Douglas (Cron) to take her to Darien CT and back; soon she seduces him. Then he finds, in Darien, the corpse of industrialist and philanderer Philip Ferguson, whom he recognizes from the hit-and-run that a while earlier killed David’s wife. Diana disappears. David’s old buddy Joe Kahn (Lee) scents a setup and starts investigating. With David now Suspect #1, his fellow-cabbies, coordinated by controller Jim Mahoney (Dean), help him track the dame and expose a plot masterminded by embezzling biotechnologist Robert Trench (Symington). Neatly put together but, Lee excepted, clumsily acted.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Well it will come as no surprise to you that the film changes the ending/solution of the book. I won’t say how otherwise it might spoil the book for you. But my anxiety of over-simplification does feel applicable here.

        Like

  2. I’m glad that you liked this one too – we agreed five out of five times so far, which is a pretty nice score. I have however to take only half credit for the recommendation as Christopher Greaves also mentioned the book in the same thread, to our mutual astonishment as it is (as usual with me) a relatively obscure work – undeservingly so in my opinion.

    While as you know I’m not much of a noir fan, I think that label would fit the book quite well because of its bleakness and cruel ending; also the Passenger is very much a femme fatale in her own way. The French title (La Belle Dame Sans Merci) is much more explicit as to this dimension of the novel, and I admit to like it better than the original.

    Not being as knowledgeable about crime fiction back when I read it as I am or think to be now, I hadn’t realized it was basically a HIBK book with a male lead, and it took me reading your review to finally grasp it. Neither did I spot that clue that you missed, so you’re not the only one.

    Now I’m holding my breath waiting for your verdict on the Berckman book…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Whilst the original title is prosaic I think it is better than the French one which is a bit of a spoiler in my opinion. It gives you too much insight into the passenger. I would have been far less surprised by the ending if I had had that title. I do agree with you though on its noir-ish elements and equally glad that my HIBK notion is not complete nonsense. I’ve read quite a few from that genre since I started the blog so that blue print is quite firmly etched into my brain. Having a male lead does make quite a difference though interestingly.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “Sorry, Wrong Number” was written specifically for radio in 1943. Five years later it was adapted into a movie and that script was then “novelized” to cash in on the popularity of the movie. But it was never really a novel. The original radio script is mostly a solo performance for one actress. A woman overhears a murder being planned on a phone when a party line gets crossed in transmission. There are, I think, only two other minor parts. Agnes Moorehead played it originally. It’s a tour de force performance of a very clever idea. Well worth listening to. I’m sure it’s been uploaded numerous times to YouTube.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m really glad you & the estimable Xavier both like this. For me, it’s one of the best crime novels I’ve read, mainly because of the depth and strangeness of the mystery but also because of the momentum of the narrative (though ideally I would like a slightly different ending). I didn’t pick up on the clue, either! I’ve read most of Fletcher’s books and she’s a very accomplished (and unfairly neglected) writer who creates an atmosphere all of her own (or maybe I just haven’t read other books like hers). I think ’80 Dollars’ is the best of them, but ‘…And Presumed Dead’ and ‘The Girl in Cabin B54’ both have a similar strange and intense mood about them and unusual stories, to put it mildly.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Sorry Wrong Number may ultimately have been more of a curse than a blessing for Fletcher, at least as far as the reception of her later work is concerned. She seems to have been popular with French readers as most of her books were translated including the ones you mentioned and 80 Dollars was very favourably received by local critics when it came out here, but for some reason she never made it to the Premier League.
      May I ask you where and how you heard of her and this particular book? She seems to be pretty much forgotten in the Anglosphere nowadays and 80 Dollars is not an easy one to find as our hostess can attest to.

      Like

      • Xavier, I found a book of hers – a nice hardback edition of ‘The Strange Blue Yawl’ – in a charity shop here in Bristol, liked the title and bought it. I found it pretty gripping and the suspense was further drawn out for me because I left the book in someone’s house when I was halfway through it and it took me a while to get it back. Ultimately I was a bit disappointed in that story but was impressed by the power of her storytelling & thought I’d try my luck with other books of hers. I love the feeling of mystery in ’80 Dollars to Stamford’ – what on earth is going on, and why? I’m writing a book at the moment which aims to evoke something of that sense of puzzlement, though my only [self] published crime novel – please excuse the advertising – is based more on the pattern of Hugh Wheeler’s Patrick Quentin books. If you like them, you might like it!

        Liked by 1 person

      • No need to apologize – I’ll be glad to read your book when it finally comes out, as it looks right up my alley. On your recommendation I’m now reading B-54 and it’s wonderful so far – very well written, very atmospheric and psychologically acute. As with 80 Dollars it isn’t immediately clear where the book is going, which is great – they call such books “mysteries” for a reason, don’t they?

        Like

  5. This sounds interesting, but I’m of two minds about it – it sounds more like thriller/horror/suspense than puzzle mystery. And if it’s the former, I should get started on Ethel Lina White first. 🤔 Thanks for the review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Since the protagonist does follow through on some kind of investigation it is less thrillerish than you might expect. There is of course the big clue which contributes to the final surprise. I think Fear Stalks the Village followed by The First Time He Died by ELW, would be more up your street reading wise, but I wouldn’t necessarily discount this one if you came across it cheaply.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.