Author Wade Miller was the pen name for the writing partnership of Robert Wade and H. Bill Miller, who collaborated on over 30 novels, also writing under the name Whit Masterson. “Kitten with a Whip” was their 1959 novel that was packaged as a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback designed to titillate male readers. “She had a child’s mind in a lush woman’s body and she reached for evil with both hands,” the blurb promises. This must be the hottest S&M crime book of all times, right?
Not really, but it’s a decent suspense novel in the Gold Medal tradition. Our protagonist is paunchy, 33 year-old, San Diego suburbanite David Patton. As the book opens, he is giddy with excitement at the possibilities of the adventures that await him while his wife and daughter are out of town on a trip. He knows in reality that a weekend home alone is usually just a lonelier version of a weekend with the family, but a working man is entitled to dream.
His dream of an adventure begins to take focus when he awakens to find a hot 17 year-old chick wearing a nightgown prowling inside his house. We quickly learn that her name is Jody, and she is a runaway from the local girl’s reformatory who broke into David’s place looking for a change of clothes and somewhere to sleep. Instead of turning the young, sexy fugitive into the authorities, David decides to show her some hospitality. The central tension of the book’s opening act is David playing chicken with his desire to have sex with this troubled teen.
The interpersonal dynamic between these two characters - the suburban shlub and the manipulative sex kitten - provides the novel’s central tension, and their relationship evolves over the course of the weekend as David ties his life into knots to avoid his neighbors and family from finding out about his uninvited guest. The psychological manipulation of one character over the other makes for some compelling suspense along the way, and watching David thread the needle on a volatile and delicate situation keeps the pages turning despite minimal action in the story until the explosively violent conclusion.
The authors play with two central ideas: fear of women and fear of adolescents. The premise is that neither group are entirely rational and that one’s use of logic and reason is an inadequate response to their innate impulsiveness. These aren’t themes that would play as well in today’s world, but they make for a satisfying glimpse into the mindset of 1950s America in this compelling novel.
“Kitten with a Whip” was adapted into a cheesy 1964 film starring John Forsythe and Ann Margaret. However, a more fun way to to enjoy the film would be the comedic Mystery Science Theater 3000 edit which, as of this writing, is available free on You Tube. In any case, read the book first. Stark House has reprinted it as a double packaged with Miller’s 1966 novel “Kiss Her Goodbye.” Recommended.