I’ll never live long enough to read the approximately 170 books that Harry Whittington wrote during his prolific career. Instead, I rely on others to identify his Greatest Hits, so I can use my limited reading time wisely. His 1954 paperback, “You’ll Die Next!”, was first published as half of an Ace Double (paired with “Drag the Dark” by Frederick C. Davis), and was recommended to me as being one of Whittington’s better noir novels.
Henry and Lila are a normal, suburban couple. One morning while Henry is enjoying Lila’s famous popovers for breakfast, the doorbell rings. When Henry opens the door, an unknown thug on his front stoop pulls him outside and beats the stuffing out of him. As the muscle leaves, he delivers Henry an ominous and threatening message from “Sammy.”
But who the hell is Sammy?
Henry quickly begins to suspect that it’s Lila with the secret in her past that inspired the beating. You see, Lila used to be a lounge singer, and she married Henry six months ago in a whirlwind romance. This always puzzled Henry because his sexy wife is way out of his league looks-wise. In any case, Lila denies knowing anyone named Sammy who would arrange for a savage beating like this.
More weirdness follows Henry that day including a mysterious letter, an attempt on his life, and an unjust suspension from work. Someone is trying to turn Henry’s life upside-down but why? Henry’s only play is to become his own investigator and locate the elusive Sammy. As the hunt unfolds, Henry’s problems escalate until he finds himself a man on the run - wanted for a crime he didn’t commit with police on his tail.
Whittington sets up the story nicely as a noir mystery, and, for the most part, the novel holds the reader’s attention quite nicely. But the worthiness of a book like this can be judged by the quality of the payoff at the end. Either the solution to the novel’s central mystery is reasonable and clever or you’ve just wasted your time on a pleasant flight without a smooth landing.
Unfortunately, Whittington fails the “clever solution” test in this particular mystery, and “You’ll Die Next!” left me feeling like I got a bum steer from whomever recommended it to me. The bad guys orchestrating Henry’s torment are wooden, and their motivation is rather silly. There are some decent scenes in this short book, but the payoff lands with a thud. As such, I need to file this one in the “don’t bother” pile. Your time is better spent elsewhere.
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