Robert Bloch - The Kidnapper (Tor, March 1988: originally Lion, 1954)
Blurb: Better than Psycho! His great lost novel!
Steve Collins is looking for the Big Score, the crime that will set him up for life. He thinks he's found it. He's going to kidnap Shirley Mae Warren, daughter of a wealthy banker and industrialist. The $200,000 ransom will get Collins his new start. He can't do it alone. He'll need help. First, Shirley Mae's nanny, Mary — for her, Collins is the perfect lover. Then, a driver and front man — the man Collins calls his best friend. The plan goes wrong. The child dies. And Collins sacrifices all — friend, lover — to save himself.
"Better than Psycho!"? Maybe. The Kidnapper is unquestionably "quieter than Psycho." Our narrator, Steve Collins (born Stanley Kolischek "but I never liked being called a Polack"), twenty-seven, is more your everyday psychopath. Had he been born into wealth, chances are Collins would be legally shafting people as a respectable businessman and have no need to dirty his hands with child abduction. When first we meet him, Steve's new in town and has taken a job as a factory hand working the night shift, which suits for now but he's not planning on sticking it through to retirement. Steve's never had any problem getting a girl but he's only interested in a certain type, and Mary Adams, twenty, currently employed as a nanny to the wealthy Warren family, ticks the right box. She's a doormat. The meaner he treats her - in and out of bed - the more she adores him. "I don't go for this love crap" he tells us, and we believe him. Steve's also cultivated a friendship with a work colleague, Leo Schumman, glasses like telescopic lenses, who worships him because he's the only one who don't put him down, call him "Specs" and stuff. Better still, Steve fixes Leo up with women, even if they are hookers, and treats him like his best pal.
Steve's a great one for get rich quick schemes and the latest foolproof plan is to rob the Warrens while they're away on vacation. Except right at the last moment, Mary drops the bombshell that they've cancelled and, rather than take a holiday, they're moving to a bigger property. Weeks of scheming up in smoke! But then Steve gets to thinking about Shirley Mae, four years old, cute as a button. If the kid were to be snatched, how much would old man Warren be prepared to pay for her safe return?
There's slightly more to the story than the back cover blurb suggests (that said, I was seriously considering applying a spoiler warning), but essentially its a character study. Psycho minus the transvestism, busy knife and pop psychology doesn't sound all that thrilling, but I read The Kidnapper through in one sitting and "liked" it plenty.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.