Friday, April 20, 2018

The Naked Jungle

The deeper and deeper I dive into 1950s paperback crime fiction, the more I’m convinced that Harry Whittington is the best among them. Better than Jim Thompson. Better than Charles Williams. Better than Cornell Woolrich. However, Whittington doesn’t receive the critical acclaim of his contemporaries, and my theory is that has everything to do with his tremendous output. After all, the man produced over 150 novels with a myriad of pseudonyms in a variety of genres. His legacy as a master is a victim of his profound work ethic. For my money, I will put the 20 best Harry Whittington novels against anyone else’s top 20 from that era. 

“The Naked Jungle” was Whittington’s 1955 Ace Books release that survives today as an ebook from vintage crime reprinter Prologue Books. The plot is simple: a plane flying from Honolulu to Sydney crashes in the South Pacific and strands three survivors on a life raft and then a deserted tropical island.

The cast of this very special episode of “Lost” is:

Krayer is a brilliant know-it-all fueled by logic and a will to survive. It’s his skill that guides his two companions to survival when lost at sea and later stranded on the island. He’s also a loathsome jackass and dangerous control freak.

Fran is his sexy wife. She had finally made her decision to leave Krayer right before the plane went down into the ocean. How will her reliance on her husband to remain alive impact her decision to be rid of him?

And there’s Webb, our enigmatic protagonist running away from his past. He becomes instantly beguiled by Fran from the first time he saw her on he plane. Now he’s marooned with the woman of his dreams and a cunning sociopath who won’t let her go.

The threesome must join together to survive their hostile environment and the growing dysfunction between them. The original cover art of this paperback looks like a cheap-o romance novel, but it’s way more than that. It’s a novel of survival - on the inflatable raft and the inhospitable island. It’s also a psychological suspense novel as Krayer and Webb jockey for position to be the Alpha Male between them with luscious Fran as the prize.

Make no mistake about it, this book is sexy as hell. Because it was 1955, there are no graphic descriptions of coupling, but Whittington knew what he was doing when devising a plot with a high-voltage, erotic charge. There are scenes in this book that you’ll replay in your mind long after you read them because of the palpable sexual energy they emit. You’ll totally understand why Webb wants Fran bad enough to risk his life to have her.

Whittington’s three-person take on “Lord of the Flies” is a total blast to read. The tension and power dynamics among the three characters was a completely suspenseful reading experience. The man against nature story alone would have been plenty exciting, but the chess game, cruelty, and graphic violence among these three castaways makes this paperback a next-level pleasure. 

Highly recommended. Essential reading.