Charles Runyon has worn a number of hats in his lifetime – Army service in Korea, farmer and industrial editor. Quitting his job to become a full-time writer didn't quite lead to the lap of luxury, but it did produce over 25 novels including Edgar Allan Poe award winner “Power Kill” (1972). Runyon's third work, Gold Medal paperback “Color Him Dead”, was released in 1963, just two years prior to what is arguably his most notable work - “The Prettiest Girl I Ever Killed”. The novel has been reprinted by Prologue in both digital and physical formats.
“Color Him Dead” introduces us to Indiana prisoner Drew. In the book's prologue, Drew has had a brutal altercation with another inmate that's placed him in isolation. When called to the warden's office, Drew learns that his mother has passed away. In that same frenzied prologue, Drew, accompanied by guards, attends his mother's funeral only to escape in a high-speed chase afterwards. In flashbacks we realize that Drew is after a woman named Edith, but it's too early for Runyon to reveal the reason.
The opening chapters explains that Edith is now married to a Caribbean dictator named Barrington. The two reside on a rural island that Barrington rules with an iron fist. While in command of slaves, villagers and industry, Ian spends his day fornicating with the local slaves while attempting to impregnate Edith monthly. Ian's enforcer is the brutish Doxie, a cruel henchman who repeatedly beats slaves to death in an effort to impress his employer. Where does Drew fit in?
Without revealing too many spoilers, Drew and Edith once had a life together. Due to certain circumstances, Edith sent Drew to prison as an innocent man. Now that Drew has escaped prison his sole purpose in life is to kill Edith. Where the novel excels is Runyon's rather clever idea to have Edith experience amnesia. What's the fun in killing someone who doesn't actually remember the reason you're doing it? That's the focus of the narrative as Drew, shockingly, seduces Edith in an attempt to jog her brain into remembering him. As the ploy continues, Drew starts to fall in love with Edith all over again.
While this novel may sound a little mushy and out of place on the crime rack, believe me...it's a real barn burner. Doxie and Barrington's attempts to displace Drew is brimming with action, fistfights and an exciting gun battle in the island cliffs. Further, there's a whole second thread of action as Drew partners with two islanders to kill Barrington and end his rule. While there's a good amount of romance – and sex – between Drew, Edith and the lovely Leta, it's paralleled by an equal amount of high-octane action. Runyon's writing is fast-paced with an intriguing cast of characters to keep the pages turning. Overall, I couldn't be more satisfied with this book.
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