John McPartland (1911-1958) was born in Chicago and served in World War II and the Korean War. He joined “Life” magazine in the 40s and later penned a number of hard-boiled novels for publishers like Fawcett Gold Medal. One of his earliest novels, “Big Red's Daughter”, was released in 1953 and later re-printed by numerous publishers. Most recently the king of reprints, Stark House Press, released the book as a double with the author's most notable work, “Tokyo Doll”.
McPartland incorporates a lot of 1950s teen angst into this rocky romantic thriller. There's a number of firm elements at play – hot rods, rebellious youth, drug use and plenty of snot-nosed kids from my 42-yr old vantage point. The main character is Jim Work, fresh out of service in Korea and drifting around the California coast. After a fender bender and some punches, Jim follows wealthy punk/bully Buddy Brown and his hot girlfriend Wild Kearny (Big Red's Daughter) to a party house.
After refusing to pay for Buddy's car repairs (Jim wasn't in the wrong), the two square off in a fistfight where Buddy beats the Holy Hell out of Jim. However, Jim's real pain comes from his heart – he's fallen in love with Wild at first sight. In a rather wild chain of events, Wild's father arrives hoping to meet her newest boyfriend Buddy. But, Wild is ashamed of him so she introduces Jim – good looking war veteran - as her boyfriend. It turns out Big Red is a former longshoreman and controls some dock rackets. He's a pretty big deal.
Soon the truth is out about Buddy and Wild's relationship. After Big Red knocks Buddy's block off, Buddy storms off into the night. Wild and Jim go out for drinks only to return and find that Buddy has killed a young friend of Wild's with scissors – of all things. After knocking Wild unconscious in the struggle, Buddy scrams. In the tradition of “whoever smelt it dealt it”, the police are called and immediately point to Jim as the killer. All of this happens in the first-half!
The second-half is a whirlwind of action that blends a jailbreak, manhunt, extraordinary fights and suspense. As Buddy, Jim and Wild run from the law, there's a new story-line introduced about heroin trafficking. With all of these stirring elements, the author builds the action to match location. In the beginning, with more low-key action, the setting is shore-side in Carmel. But, as the action and intensity increases, the location is heightened to the cliffs and mountains above the sea. It's a clever design.
With “Big Red's Daughter” we see author McPartland certainly flirting with greatness. He wrote 11 novels in the 1950s and four screenplays. Dying at the young age of 47, I think McPartland's career didn't reach appropriate heights. Nevertheless, we have some fine novels as a testament to the strength of McPartland's writing. I certainly recommend this book, but at 128-pages you may want to purchase the Stark House double to gain “Tokyo Doll” with your money.
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