A Touch of Death (Hard Case Crime #17)
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A Touch of Death (Hard Case Crime #17)

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  324 ratings  ·  44 reviews
It Began As a Burglary – And Ended As a Nightmare.

When Lee Scarborough came upon the brunette sunbathing topless in her back yard, getting involved in a heist was the last thing on his mind. But somehow that’s where he found himself – sneaking through a stranger’s house, on the hunt for $120,000 in embezzled bank funds.

It looked like an easy score. But one thing stood bet...more
Mass Market Paperback, Hard Case Crime #17, 250 pages
Published February 1st 2006 by Hard Case Crime (first published 1953)
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Best Noir
106th out of 448 books — 504 voters
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18th out of 100 books — 6 voters


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Community Reviews

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Dan Schwent
When washed up football player Lee Scarborough gets hired to steal $120,000 from a banker's widow, how can he pass it up? Little does Lee know that other people have their sights set on the money and the widow herself. And Madelon Butler, the widow, is the most deadly of them all...

A Touch of Death has many of the things I look for in a crime novel. There are multiple double crosses, gunplay, and the tension of being on the run. Madelon Butler is by far the most interesting character in the nove...more
Tfitoby
It's not necessarily a bad book, especially when considered as a product of its time but I was quite disappointed by Charles Williams' A Touch of Death to the point where I'm reconsidering my slavish devotion to the Hard Case imprint.

A down on his luck ex-football player gets sucked in to a scam to steal $120k from somebody who has already stolen it from a dead man who had stolen it from a bank. Sounds fun and convoluted but Williams lost me almost immediately as his naive protagonist immediatel...more
David
As with many noir novels, the less you know about the plot going in, the better. So let me describe my reading experience in abstract: This was my first Charles Williams novel, and when I first read it, I did not know anything about him or his work. To me, this was just another Hard Case Crime reprint. When I started the book, it did not seem like anything special. But then Williams got his claws into me, and the further I read, the deeper they sank. By the time I was done with the book, William...more
Adam
Charles Williams's A Touch of Death is a tour de force. While none of the characters have a great deal of psychological depth, the two elements that I read noir fiction for--suspense and paranoia--are in full force here. Halfway through, once Williams has set up everything, the story moves forward like a ticking clock. The tension builds on each page, and doesn't let up until the last chapter. Readers who demand characters with detailed backstories and psychologically comprehensive motivations m...more
Dave Russell
Are you a fan of Jorge Luis Borges? Because I am.

He once wrote a meditation on one of Zeno's paradoxes. Zeno set out to prove that motion is impossible. If motion were possible then Achilles, a fast runner, would have no problem catching up to a moving tortoise. Not so easy, according to Zeno. He points out Achilles would first have to reach the spot where the tortoise was, but by the time he did the tortoise would have moved forward. Achilles then would have to reach the new spot the tortoise...more
Erin (Paperback Stash)
A hard case I truly enjoyed....even though he was trying to get money an easy way, I dug the main character. The back of the book is right in describing the woman as one of the coldest out there. The ending reminds of me a surreal ending to a movie in the older days. A bizarre turnout but you couldn't help but be enthralled during the whole ride. Most of the time there was plenty of action going on, but during the moments when there wasn't - it felt like there was still much going on, primarily...more
Andy
Mar 15, 2010 Andy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: black widow noir
Shelves: hard-case-crime
Reminiscent of Edgar Ulmer's "Detour" in that it maintains a claustrophobic tension between a man and woman running from the law and not trusting each other. The leading man is an overbearing bully so he's got what's coming to him by the "femme fatale" of the story. In fact the lead guy is such a creep you'll find yourself rooting for Susie Mumble all through the book.
Noir should have loads of death AND sex, and Williams never disappoints.
Chris
A thrilling noir, where neither the hero (if such a term meaningfully can be applied to the protagonist) nor the reader has a clue what's really going on until the end. While not quite "literature," precisely, it's nevertheless a fantastic distillation of the style of crime novels from the 1930-1955 period -- the kind of story where all the women are femme fatales, all the lights are neon, and all the lines are punchlines. This is the type of novel so absorbing that it makes one (literally, in m...more
Allison
I wanted a book to read to get my mind off of homework, so I picked this up after having gotten it at a used book store earlier this year. I tend to trust that the Hard Case Crime books will always be at least readable, and this was no exception. A Touch of Death was exciting and had some genuinely surprising plot twists, which isn't always the case in crime novels. The chapters are short, forcing the story along quickly, and the author wastes no time in getting things going. Plus, this novel ha...more
Bruce
Nov 12, 2007 Bruce rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: hard crime. noir, and mystery fans
Non-stop action, convincing characters, intriguing plot with a (literally) slam bang ending. Williams is one of the most underrated noir/hard crime authors around.
Rob at-52-Novels
"i really liked this book. williams did a great job. man on the run helping the damsel in disress with a great twist. nicely done."
Mark
Jan 12, 2014 Mark added it
Cracking good mid-century hard-boiled noir story--so good it's hard to believe nobody's done a film adaptation. The again, this one is so archetypal, it's probably influenced dozens of books and movies since it hit the drugstore shelves. I'm giving n plot details since there are some wonderful twists and turns I don't want to spoil, but this is a well constructed and gripping tale of a sort-of re-robbery that also features what must be one of the best (or most wicked) femmes fatale in pulp ficti...more
Benjamin
My favorite Charles Williams book!
Sarah
This was one of the better hard case crime books that I've read. The story is about a washed up ex-football player who lives a life that he finds dreary and unsatisfying. When a woman tells him that thousands of dollars are hidden in the house of another woman who allegedly killed her husband, he quickly agrees to search the house and split the money with her.

Of course, nothing is that simple. The owner of the house, the femme fatale of the novel, is home. He rescues her from an attempted murder...more
Lars
Feb 26, 2012 Lars rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: crime
I didn't know Charles Williams before I read this book - unfortunately. 'A Touch of Death' is one of the better novels of the Hard Case Crime Series, featuring a clever, dark and stunning Femme Fatale which makes the life of our protagonist, a former and now broke football player, very complicated. In search of fast money, he tries to outsmart the Femme Fatale, but in the end has to realize that he can't compete with her. The novel is quite unusual, as nearly one half of it is some kind of chamb...more
Chris
Broke ex-football player Lee gets sidetracked by a sunbathing brunette when he heads out to pawn his car. She spins him a tale about a recent heist performed by a bank executive; she knows for certain the exec was killed by his wife. So she has a proposition for Lee: sneak into the dead man's mansion, find the $120,000 he made off with, and they'll split it. Sounds easy, right? Turns out the dead man's wife Madelon was home... along with someone looking to kill her.

Thus begins Lee's descent int...more
Stephanie Patterson
So, I’m getting my hair done yesterday and I’m reading “A Touch of Death.” This is a Hard Case Crime book so the cover is somewhat provocative. I see several people in the salon look at the cover. There are a few wrinkled noses. What these folks don’t know is that I’m reading some very fine prose.
I love noir novels. The traditional mystery, no matter who wretched the crime, usually ends with justice being served. In noir mysteries the only certainty is that things will end very badly. The reade...more
Viktor
Lots of GREAT stuff here, but lots of "huh, what?" stuff too. The second half is basically two people talking. And it's great stuff. However, I kept wondering why he didn't check back in at the apartment that is at the start of the book. And how did he get picked? Seemed random, but maybe I missed it.

For noir books 4*'s is my top.

And the end is deeee-LISH.
Jim
Very well done, exciting read. An ex-football player tells us how he met a girl & we follow him into a deadly mystery with a prize of a lot of money. The story unfolds bit, by logical bit, that completely swings it around, especially twisting us toward the end as all the pieces finally fall into place. I could not only follow his line of thought every step of the way, but felt I would probably do the same, feel the same. It was scary.

The story is a bit dated. Much of it depends on informatio...more
Andre
What a great book! I have been reading the Hard Case Crime series for a while now and even though I have loved almost all of them so far, every now and then a true gem pops up. Such is the case with Charles Williams' "A Touch Of Death". An ex football player is down on his luck and ends up chasing after $12000 dollar, apparently stoked by a bank manager planning to leave his wife and run off with his lover. But that is only a very small tip of a huge iceberg of intrigue, suspense, mind games and...more
Michael Mallory
"A Touch of Death" is a quintessential high-end 1950s noir (reprinted by Hard Case Crime), "high-end" meaning the sex and violence quotient is actually pretty light. But the plot never stops for a breath, and the psychological suspense ratchets up quite nicely. It also features what might be the hardest, coldest femme fatale in print, a deadly iceberg who is almost supernaturally in control. Like most hard-boiled novels of this era, the realism is stylized and has to be accepted as such, but onc...more
Pritamkothari
Must read full of twist and turns. An enjoyable book.
Solitairerose
Excellent genre novel, tight, fast, and with enough double crossing to keep you guessing until the last pages. The best part of the novel is that it just doesn't let up. Once the lead character crosses the line into breaking the law, he slowly falls further and further into the darkness, and bring you along for the ride, making it all seem like the only choice available.

One of the best gems uncovered by Hard Case Crime, and an excellent read for a chilly, cloudless night.
Jeff
A Touch of Death (1953) is a Charles Williams first person account of a corruptible former football player who gets snarled up with a couple of femme fatales and is eventually out-thought, cheated, driven insane, and permanently locked up in a mental institution. And he doesn’t even get laid. This has a good ending but since the two leads spend most of the book in an apartment arguing with each other, it’s awfully talky.
Westley
Down-on-his-luck former football player, Lee Scarborough, is just trying to sell his car when he meets a beautiful woman who makes him a proposition -- help her find a stash of money. It sounds like a sure-thing, but before Lee knows it, he's been crossed. First published in 1953, this re-release by Hard Case Crime is a bang-up good read.
Nathan
Down-on-his-luck ex-footballer feels the lure of an easy score, and Falls. Crime does not pay in 1953, but the ending here is a bit more full-on than most. Crisp dialogue, good pacing and a narrator who clearly sees himself overstepping but who can't resist the temptation. Good solid stuff. Rated M for adult themes and some some violence. 3.5/5
Jack
I read this quite a long time ago but I remember that it was an unbelievably exciting story and that I pictured Jeff Bridges and Angelina Jolie as the principal characters. It's a perfect example of the "Hemingwayesque" retro noir novel that will always grab my attention. Definitely one of the best Hard Case Crime reissues.
Chris
This was a fun little read, full of hard women and a narrator who is out of his league and slowly sinking the whole time. The side characters are occasionally a bit ridiculous, particularly the brother-sister team of revengers, but even so, they are not as ridiculous as similar characters in other detective novels.
Connie
This is a Hard Case Crime book. It is about a woman that killed her husband and took some money that he had stolen from a bank. How a man came to find the money and then was stuck with this woman and wanted to split the money, but ended up being prosecuted for the crimes and she got away clean.
Neil McCrea
Tik tok. This is a tidy little clockwork crime novel. All the gears and cogs are where they're supposed to be, and it runs exactly how one would expect it to. It would have been greatly improved if it had an alarm, or any other additional feature beyond its ability to keep time.
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Charles Williams (1909–1975) was one of the preeminent authors of American crime fiction. Born in Texas, he dropped out of high school to enlist in the US Merchant Marine, serving for ten years before leaving to work in the electronics industry. At the end of World War II, Williams began writing fiction while living in San Francisco. The success of his backwoods noir Hill Girl (1951) allowed him t...more
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