I’ll confess that the cover art by Robert Abbett sucked me into opening the 1963 stand-alone paperback “Anything But Saintly” by Richard Deming. But in my defense, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of the handful of Deming’s novels I’ve read thus far. Deming was an under-appreciated master of crime fiction, and it’s a crime that few people know his work today.
“Anything But Saintly” is narrated by a fundamentally honest vice cop named Matt Rudd (Americanized from his given name of Mateusz Rudowski) who is playing gin with his partner in the squad room one day when a citizen barges in asking, “Is this where you come to report whores?” The citizen is a visitor from Houston who was rolled by a prostitute after consummating the transaction in his hotel room and wants his $500 back.
The investigation of this seemingly simple crime gets materially more complex for Rudd and his partner when they learn the identity of the whore and her pimp. It turns out that the pimp has some pretty heavy political connections, and this is particularly inconvenient for Rudd who is jockeying for a promotion in a town where the police board is politically appointed. “There are certain rackets we overlook because of the political influence of the racketeers”, Rudd explains.
The story takes place in the fictitious city of St. Cecilia, but it’s obvious this is a euphemism for Chicago, and Deming does a nice job of taking the reader into the incestuous alliance between the urban racketeers and the local politicians, a symbiotic relationship that was the real deal in 20th century Chicago.
The cover of the paperback gives away a fairly significant plot point that occurs around the 20% mark, but I won’t spoil it here. Suffice it to say that the stakes in this minor investigation increase markedly as the plot evolves into a murder mystery and the political alliances of the characters shift. This is very smart novel - smarter than it had to be for a cheapo paperback original from this era. The writing is excellent and the characters - particularly the call girls - are vividly drawn. The plot is fast moving and dialogue heavy with a good bit of action and gunplay. The murder mystery also has a nice twist with a satisfying solution.
If you can’t find the 1963 paperback, it’s also available as an eBook in all formats. Whatever the medium, “Anything But Saintly” is another straight-up winner for Richard Deming. Recommended.