I Prowl by Night (Beacon, 1961)

The fourth peeping tom novel by ol’ Orrie looked at here on this blog, following The Peeper, Peeping Tom, and Unnatural Urge, all of them pretty damn good stories, albeit on the same theme.  Peepers sometimes pop up in sub-plots, like in Warped Woman/Taboo Thrills/Wilma’s Wants. Like girls posing for nude pix and young women marrying rich older men, the peeper was one of Hitt’s beloved topics addressing the darker nature of human desire.  In the previous three, all narrators know they have a problem and wish they could stop, wish they could seek help, but are unable to battle  their fetish.

In The Peeper, the narrator is a reporter, reporting on his own prowls and peeps; in Peeping Tom, the narrator is a painter; in Unnatural Urge, he’s a business man. In this one, the narrator, Johnny Brady, is a plumber, and he works for his wife’s father, who talks him into a sneaky deal to buy out his competitor’s company, with an idea of a merger and a time when Johnny will take over the family biz.  The father does it all for his little girl; he even bought them a nice house in a ritzy part of Clinton, NY, where this is set (a town Hitt often uses, like Merchantsville).

Johnny has been married for six months to Anne and has not peeped in all that time, but he feels the urge to after a new girl, Mae, is hired in the office and after meeting another girl at a farm, Judy.  All he can do now is picture peeping in on them and it’s driving him nuts — so much is this obsession that he muses on it nearly every page, something The Groovy Age iof Horror’s review notes:

I was quite amazed, in this one, how successful he was at repeating the obsessive and self-recriminatory elements without allowing them to seem boringly repetitive. It’s always on the main character’s mind, and yet somehow, through that filter, I still found a surprisingly interesting story about a working-class stiff also coping with life’s ordinary difficulties.

He’s more interested in Mae than Judy, perhaps because Judy has a birthmark on her upper thigh that is similar to the mark on the first girl he ever peeped on, as a teenager.

I started peeping quite by accident, about the time I was fourteen […] New people moved into the house next to us and they had a eighteen-year-old daughter who liked to throw her shape around.  Our houses were maybe twenty feet apart, no more.  The girl took the bedroom opposite of mine on the second floor.,  Sometimes during the afternoon I would see her moving around there and I would lie on my bed, watching her, a strange sensation flowing through me and my mouth hot and dry[…] There she was, disrobed, her stomach flat, her hips rounded and full. And on one plump thigh was a small, red, starwberry birthmark. I shivered with wild, reflective delight. (p.9)

One night, his wife gone, Johnny doesn’t have any prowling luck to appease his eyes and kink, so wanders into a bar, gets drunk, meets a chippy named Sally Cain (agin for James Cain?), goes to her room, and wakes up in the morning not knowing what happened.  The girl has looked through his wallet and knows his name, where he works, his phone number at home.  She then starts to blackmail him, asking for $20 here and there, otherwise…well, his wife might find out…and he pays her when she demands.

Johnny constantly muses on his problem and what a fool he is, on the verge of messing up his marriage, when his entire life rests on the marriage: he loves her, but his future as a plumber, taing over the family biz, is at stake if she ever catches him cheating or peeping on other women…if she even knew…”I’m a freak” and “I’m a monster” keeps crossing Johnny’s mind….he’s like that character Dexter, normal on the outside, a beast on the inside, burdened with constant inner turmoil over his identity and truth:

I couldn’t wait. I couldn’t think. The night was mine and I had to have a window.  I was like an alcoholic that needs that first.  Right now I would’ve settled for just about anybody or anything.

I was frantic as I walked down the street. I didn’t know where to look.  Many people were already in bed and that was no help.  Besides, it was cold and I was uncomfortable.  Yet I had to go on. I couldn’t stop. Something forced me to go on. (p. 116)

He hires the farm girl Judy to work for his new plumbing company, and purposely helps her rent a bottom floor room in town so he can later peep on her, which he does so descriptively:

Judy was still up and so was the shade of the back window.

She was dressed and moving about the room.

I hung back in the shadows for a few minutes, listening for a dog, and then I crept close […] Judy stopped before the dresser, opened a drawer and began getting out her things.  I supposed they were for the next day, so that she’d be ready to dress in the morning […] she finished with the drawer, closed it, and turned around to face me. She smiled faintly and I wondered what she was thinking about.  Then she lifted up her skirt to reach for the hooks that held up her stocking.

I gulped for air.

Her legs looked better now than they had in the office and they were perfectly formed. Farm legs, I thought.  She sat down on the edge of the bed to remove the stockings and she was still facing me. As she lifted one leg, rolling the stocking down, I saw the creamy white of her thigh. I pressed close to the window, any caution I might have had gone. Here was what I wanted, what I had to have. Here was a beautiful girl who did not know she was being watched. (p. 91)

Part of the lure of watching seems to be power, the power over another person’s lack of knowing; it seems to be part acquisition of another’s private life, the little things we keep to ourselves.

You drive past a house with the shades of the blinds up and and you want to see what’s inside.  Ranch houses are the best because the bedrooms are downstairs, but almost any house can give result. You may wonder why people don’t shut out the outside world when they undress but they either forget or don’t care. (p. 12)

While he kisses and fondles Judy in the office, he never goes to her room for sex as she keeps offering; he’d rather watch her from her window, and he’s still paranoid about his wife finding things out, especially with Sandy Cain extorting him for money. But his biggest desire is Mae, because she won’t go out to dinner with him or any maried man — she is the hardest to get, and she becomes not only his ultiamte prize but his eventful downfall.

I Prowl by Night is more a character study than plot-filled like the prevous three — Peeper and Peeping Tom had the narrator succumbing into a rapist and eluding the cops, and Unnatural Urge had a murder subplot.  Still, a well-written book and on the Hitt Scale, an 8.

3 Responses to “I Prowl by Night (Beacon, 1961)”

  1. […] I Prowl by Night by Orrie Hitt Reviewed here. […]

  2. This is a GREAT blog!!

  3. orriehittfan Says:

    Glad ya dig it, Don!

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