Odds Against Tomorrow
The situation is a nightmare waiting to happen -- a racist ex-con gets drawn into the planning of a heist by a crooked ex-cop, and they are forced to include a young black man who is in debt to a mobster. What can go wrong does go wrong in Odds Against Tomorrow, a bleak, mesmerizing thriller by William P. McGivern, published in 1957 and reminiscent of the novels of W.R. Burnett.
An ex-con named Earl Slater and a disgraced former cop named Dave Burke agree to work together to rob a small bank in a small Pennsylvania town. Circumstances force them to include a young singer named Johnny Ingram, whose ex-wife and young daughter have been threatened by a low-life mobster to whom Ingram owes money. The problem is that Ingram is black, and Slater is a bitterly prejudiced man who taunts Ingram, humiliating him by calling him Sambo. With the tension already high, the robbery is a tactical disaster. Everything goes wrong, beginning with Earl Slater being recognized by a service station attendant, and the inevitable conflict arising between Ingram and Slater at the worst possible moment when Dave Burke falters. With the cops chasing Ingram and Slater, they are chasing each other, reconciling only when time runs out for both.
When the novel was published, Saturday Review called Odds Against Tomorrow "a first-class thriller ... the reader is bowled along dizzily from the moment the plot is hatched to the last fusillade," and The New York Times acclaimed it as "a powerfully exciting action-melodrama." McGivern's unflinching style, supported by a clockwork plot and an inspired set of characters, is enriched with the inclusion of a black character whose mere presence threatens to destabilize the planned heist, an illuminating touch that was rare in genre fiction before the 1960s. Odds Against Tomorrow recalls W.R. Burnett's The Asphalt Jungle in its clear-eyed depiction of fringe characters doing each other in out of greed, bitterness and neurosis -- a brilliant thriller of uncommon perception.