White, Lionel (pulp fiction writer)



Lionel White became a writer of crime novels after early years spent as a police reporter and then, most significantly, a couple of decades spent editing “true crime” magazines, including Homicide Detective, True Detective, and World Detective. These were the sordid publications (precursors of television programs like America’s Most Wanted) that recounted, in five- and eight-page features, actual recent crimes. The stories followed each case up to the criminal’s apprehension and often, in the case of homicides, to his execution; they were accompanied by black-and-white crime scene photographs, often including shocking, explicit photos of murder victims. After poring over thousands of such stories, White was thoroughly educated in the personalities and mental processes of the criminal class. He knew by heart the way these mostly oafish characters operated and the way most of their schemes came undone. White’s first topic, The Snatchers (1953), focused almost entirely on a criminal gang in the process of ransoming the young girl they have kidnapped. With a smoothly anonymous style, White follows the evolving ransom scheme and the devolving interrelationships of the kidnappers until both narrative strands end in blood-soaked disaster.

White wrote other types of crime stories through the years, but his specialty would follow the model of The Snatchers, the “caper” novel that focused on a single—inevitably disastrous and violent—crime for profit undertaken by a gang of crooks. In Clean Break (filmed by Stanley Kubrick as The Killing), the group heists a racetrack payroll; in The Big Caper, a small-town bank. In Too Young To Die, diamonds are the goal; in Operation—Murder, the loot on a railroad train. Ignoring the pulp tradition of sentimentalizing professional robbers and outlaws, White observes his characters dispassionately and subtly discourages the reader from getting too close to his various casts of dumb thugs, lovestruck broads, and assorted arsonists and sharpshooters.

White wrote at least two great crime novels outside the caper subgenre, The Money Trap, about a cop’s tragic slide into corruption, and Obsession, a kind of rewrite of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita as a sleek, nasty noir adventure. The latter novel was—loosely—adapted into the 1965 arthouse classic Pierrot le Fou, directed by Jean-Luc Godard.

White was a favorite author in France, as witness the fact that The Snatchers was found to have been the blueprint for a 1950s headline-making kidnapping of a Peugeot automobile heir. And just like the characters in the topic, the French kidnappers did not get away with it. In a kind of return compliment, the American film version of The Snatchers, titled The Night of the Following Day (1969), starring Marlon Brando and Richard Boone, relocated the story from New York to France.


  • Big Caper, The (1955);
  • Clean Break (1955);
  • Coffin for a Hood (1958);
  • Crimshaw Memorandum, The (1967);
  • Death of Sea, A (1961);
  • Death of a City (1970);
  • Death Takes the Bus (1957);
  • Flight into Terror (1955);
  • Grave Undertaking, A (1961);
  • Hijack (1969);
  • Hostage for a Hood (1957);
  • House Next Door, The (1956);
  • House on K Street, The (1965);
  • Invitation to Violence (1958);
  • Jailbreak (1976);
  • Lament for a Virgin (1960);
  • Love Trap (1955);
  • Marilyn K. (1960);
  • Merriweather File, The (1959);
  • Mexico Run, The (1974);
  • Money Trap, The (1963);
  • Night of the Rape, The (1967);
  • Obsession (1962);
  • Operation—Murder (1956);
  • Party to Murder, A (1966);
  • Rafferty (1959);
  • Ransomed Madonna, The (1964);
  • Rich and Dangerous Game, A (1974);
  • Right for Murder (1957);
  • Run, Killer, Run (1959);
  • Seven Hungry Men (1952);
  • Snatchers, The (1953);
  • Steal Big (1960);
  • Time of Terror, The (1960);
  • To Find a Killer (1954);
  • Too Young to Die (1958)

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