Review by Karl Verhoven
To Have & to Hold is a classic caper story, richly detailed in evocative black and white art beautifully defining the downbeat early 1960s setting for those failed by the 1950s spirit of consumer optimism. Lonnie is an ex-serviceman and an ex-policeman now pulling night shifts as a security guard. His attractive wife Kate is demanding, and Lonnie learns early that she’s not getting dolled up to spend her nights playing bingo at the church after all. Their marriage has been reduced to a depressing sequence of frosty encounters in the few hours they connect before one or other departs for work.
When he discovers Kate is spending her nights at a motel, Lonnie follows the man she’s meeting and learns he manages a bank. The ideal revenge, then, will be to rob that bank. “I’m telling ya Roy… it’s like they want to be knocked over”. Lonnie’s already worked with Roy, ironically the friend who introduced him to Kate, and Roy knows Calvin, a getaway driver who can provide a car from the scrapyard where he works. The key to the effectiveness of a heist plot is how it goes wrong, and Chaffee’s plotting is superb, introducing not only the unforeseen complications, but broadening the cast to include the cynical investigating police detectives. The chaos and carnage is wonderfully contrasted with Kate experiencing a glimpse of the life she believes she’s due, featuring a wonderfully detailed full page illustration of her glancing over the neighbourhood from a penthouse flat.
Chaffee’s art is as good as his writing, with the seedy pulp cover setting the tone. He’s confident enough to have long wordless sequences continue the story, and his primary cast have their lives etched into their expressions, which bear the accumulation of disappointments and missed opportunities. A vivid movie quality exemplifies action scenes, which have the instinctive cuts and variety of a natural storyteller. There is no great narrative reason to set the story in the past, so the assumption must be that it’s an era that resonates with Chaffee, and he draws the hell out of the locations, the cars and the clothing. It’s also worth noting his chapter separations, which are snapshots back into Lonnie and Katie’s past, moving forward from their first meeting. It’s reminiscent of the year by year Cruisin’ album compilations from the 1970s, each with a cover progressing the story of Peg and Eddie.
Not everything is spelled out, and we pick up on the disgrace of Lonnie’s past without ever knowing what happened, but we do learn Lonnie reacts to circumstance without engaging his brain first. He’s shown throughout as the guy that just about skims by, never realising the part good fortune plays in keeping him out of jail because his overall circumstances are poor.
Everything is smoothly guided to a conclusion that neatly knots together the scenes we’ve experienced. Chaffee’s previous work has been more experimental and not as cohesive, but the mantle of crime writer suits him well.