“Frenzy” by James O. Causey


The Capital Vices

Can a book be called Crime Fiction if there is nobody chasing the bad guys? Frenzy is such a book. All of the characters are bad guys. Not a single one, with the possible exception of the protagonists brother has the slightest bright spot in his soul to redeem him or her. It’s often labeled as “hardboiled” but there is no detective in the story. At least not one who is actually pursuing a crime or trying to solve a mystery. This is classic noir that would have made David Goodis or James M. Cain proud if he had written it.

The story is told by Norm Sands, a self described “two-bit grifter”.  How does a man become a “two-bit grifter”? That question is answered twelve years earlier. Norman Sands and his year younger brother, Matt were orphaned at the age of five when their parents were killed in a car crash. But that wasn’t the defining moment. They had insurance money and an aunt to take them in. They lived in a little town on the edge of the desert in southern California, Mason Flats. A five room room house. They were fed, clothed and cared for but Norm “was a dark child”, moody, got in fights, got in trouble. Boy kind of trouble. Matt was an honor student. Basketball star. People liked Matt. Matt was going to be a lawyer. Norm had a job setting pins in a bowling alley when WWII broke out. Norm ran with a fast crowd. They got in gang fights with the Mexican kids. Hung out playing pool in the backroom of Hermann’s. His brother was going places but Norm was sitting there at a fast idle until he fell in love in the eleventh grade with Laurie. Problem was Laurie was Hal Karse’s steady. Hal’s daddy was a big shot business man in town. Hal drove a sharp convertible, chrome headers, Carson top and all the girls were crazy about Hal. Until in a gang fight with some Mexican kids, Hal picked up a broken bottle and scarred one kid for life. Laurie dropped Hal and started seeing Norms brother, Matt. Hal was envious, but glad that Laurie was near.Frenzy

On prom night, Hal picked a fight with Matt, really beat him up. Norm finds out and takes a knife to Hal’s fine ride. Slashes the top, the upholstery, the dash. Pours dirty in the engine, took a brick to all the glass and gets caught. In the fight, Norm is being beat mercilessly when a free hand finds a brick and and hits one of his attackers, Claude, in the head. Suddenly the fight is over, apparently Claude is dead. What started as boys fighting ended in a murder. Norm flees town. Hops a freight destined for a life on the lam. You learn fast when you are on the run, a murderer at 16. You learn about degenerates, about filth, about hunger. You learn about sadistic brakemen, fond of crippling hobos. You learn to survive. You hustle in poolrooms in East L.A. At twenty you graduate to floating crap games. You discover you have good reflexes and a natural talent for cheating at cards. You celebrate your twenty-first birthday by having your ear drum punctured to avoid the draft. Your friends are con men, pimps and thieves.

Most of all you embrace the Seven Deadly Sins – that is really the message here. Wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. AKA The Capital Vices and they will each, in its time undo Norm Sands.

The story opens twelve years later. Norm has become that two-bit grifter. he knows all the cons and can stack a deck. Norm is dealing cards in Gardena, a city out side of Los Angles that took advantage of state laws to operate poker parlors. Norm is shilling and dealing in one of these between betting on sure things that never come in, at Santa Anita on race days.

He is working for a shady character named Garth Anders and answering to Garths muscle, Angelo Ventresca. Norm has plans, such big plans but his own ambitions and schemes derail him every time. The Capital Vices.He plays hanky panky with Ingram’s girl, Robin. When he is caught, because of slothful ways, he is beaten.Nothing more.  In this kind of business there are various types of beatings, this wasn’t a beating that left you with ruined kidneys and a broken soul. Just an object lesson. Norm could have learned a lesson and gotten on with his small life, but lust, greed, envy, a touch of wrath – a need for revenge, and pride won’t let him. And sloth, time after time does him in. The Capital Vices, and Norm has them in Spades. Frenzy 3When a cop named Mallory finds out that Garth is planning on taking a delivery of Heroin he co-ops Norm. Norm decides to finger Garth and Angelo. And at the same time, rip off Garth for a sizable chunk of change….and steal his girl. Naturally it all goes wrong, and Norm this time is on a one way trip to being fitted with a wooden suit, when he escapes, hops a train, not a plug nickel to his name.

After a ten day lock up in San Bernardino for vagrancy he drifts south, eventually landing in his home town, Mason Flats. He initially plans on bumming a couple hundred bucks from his brother but soon is involved in real estate scams, oil speculation, murder, political corruption, and every imaginable vice from gambling to prostitution to drugs and racketeering,

Maybe he sees Mason Flats as his last chance at redemption, read the book and decide for yourself, but he’ll do anything, commit any sin, embrace all the Capital Vices – and betray, use and abuse anybody for this big opportunity to ‘win’.James O Causey  Friends, screw ‘em.  Family, sorry brother. He’ll lie, cheat, steal and no one is safe from his ambition. Not family, not the women he lusts for, not allies. No one and nothing.  Just when you think he has sunk as low as humanly possible, Norman Sands finds new depths of depravity and a new scheme. The Capital Vices rule Norman, and the ending  will answer the question, does crime pay? And what are the wages of sin?

James Oliver Causey was born in Los Angles in 1924 and died 2003. His first writing credit is from Weird Tales, "The Statue," from the January 1943  issue.

Weird Tales Causey’s writing career picked up again after the war. At least four of his stories were published in Street and Smith’s Detective Story Magazine between June 1945 and March 1947. In the early fifties, Causey tried his hand at science fiction with stories in Galaxy Science Fiction, Science Stories, and Orbit Science Fiction. Frenzy was written in 1960.There is a pretty good bio on him at Teller Of Weird Tales web site.

The Dirty Lowdown


Filed under Reviewing The Classics

9 responses to ““Frenzy” by James O. Causey

  1. Robert Carraher

    I”d like to make a correction here, to the photo. I just found out that this is not James O. Causey…well, not the author. This is the authors father. I have this on good authority, his niece, and the man in the photos granddaughter. She, Chansonette has offered to send a photo of the author and perhaps some stories to go along with this enigma of the crime fiction world.

  2. I just downloaded a copy on my Kindle. Thanks!
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

  3. Well, I don’t know if I’ll choose it for this evening’s bedtime reading, but maybe later this week, during the day.

  4. It’s a pretty quick read, classic noir. Oh, and not to be confused with the Hitchcock film.

  5. I read about half of it last night. The writing style is strictly functional, but damn, Norman Sands has to be the most inexhaustibly bad guy ever set to paper.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

  6. Ain’t it the truth, yet Norman is so believable as a character, he has a small dark soul and I think I used to go to school with him 😉 I forget who it was commenting on Causey that said, if you want a really well written book, Causey will give you that every time. No classics, not adventursome, strictly “by the book” but reliable. Actually some of his SciFi was oft times cited by Asimov, Dick and Bradbury as some of the best of the genre, but his noir is strictly functional.

  7. Norman is a negative image of the American Dream!
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

  8. Isn’t though! Fascinating character really. I started off empathizing with him, but not for long.

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