FORGOTTEN BOOKS: THE LAUGHTER TRAP!
Possibly better known under his Huge Pentecost pseudonym, Judson Philips was another successful wordsmith to make the jump from the pulps to paperback originals. Highly prolific, Philips was never top rank, but almost always told a solid story.
I started reading Philips’ Peter Styles novels when Pinnacle began reprinting them in 1973 with stylized covers. I enjoyed them enough to stay with them as each new title appeared.
Styles first appeared in The Laughter Trap. He is haunted by memories of driving his alcoholic father home from a ski resort only to be forced off the road by two hooded men in dark glasses and driving a dark sedan – the passenger laughing maniacally.
The resulting accident killed Styles’ father and severed Styles’ right leg below the knee when he was thrown clear. Now, he’s returning to the ski resort to seek the unknown killers.
Within a short time there are several more murders linked to a maniacally laughing man. Are they connected to the murder of Styles’ father – of course, but that’s all part of the fun.
With his experience in the pulps, Philips knew how to keep the pot boiling and the story clipping along. His use of Styles’ artificial leg is handled well and often leads to increasing suspense.
The Laughter Trap is a good start for the series with decent characterization and several twists leading to the traditionally surprising least-likely suspect reveal.
What makes the Styles’ novels of continuing interest is Philips’ efforts to confront the social controversies of the era, often using Styles’ position as a reporter/columnist for Newsview magazine to jump start his plots. In many ways, the novels are tiny time capsules drawn from the headlines of the day.
THE PETER STYLES NOVELS:
The Laughter Trap (1964)
The Black Glass City (1965)
The Twisted People (1965)
Wings of Madness (1966)
Thursday’s Folly (1967)
Hot Summer Killing (1968)
Nightmare at Dawn (1970)
Escape a Killer (1971)
The Vanishing Senator (1972)
The Larkspur Conspiracy (1973)
The Power Killers (1974)
Walk a Crooked Mile (1975)
Five Roads to Death (1977)
Why Murder? (1979)
Death Is a Dirty Trick (1980)
Murder As the Curtain Rises (1981)
Target for Tragedy (1982)