Monday, February 4, 2019

One for Hell

Jada M. Davis (1919-1996) was a newspaperman in West Texas who saw plenty of crime and corruption in his day coinciding with the oil boom that transformed the character of sleepy small towns unprepared for rapid growth. His unique vantage point over the underbelly of society clearly sparked his imagination for the 1952 Fawcett Red Seal crime novel, “One For Hell.” The paperback was reprinted by Stark House in 2010 and remains available today as a trade paperback and eBook at reasonable prices.

The novel’s protagonist is Willa Ree, like the author, a man with a feminine-sounding name. He’s a flat-broke drifter and ex-con who bails out of a freight train in search of sustenance in the oil boomtown of Breton. Upon arrival, Ree meets a corrupt local city councilman who arranges for Ree to be hired by the local police force as a plain clothes detective with the understanding that Ree will keep the graft money flowing in the right direction.

Ree embraces the lifestyle of a crooked cop with real gusto, and the reader quickly realizes that he is a genuinely bad guy - not a charming antihero but a complete heel driven by greed and ambition. Ree’s government-sanctioned crime spree is plenty entertaining and involves a fair share of shocking, bloody violence that keeps the pages turning. So be warned: he’s a reprehensible guy and does some awful things within the pages of this paperback.

The novel’s main flaw is that there’s hardly anyone to root for among the graft-addicted politicians and crooked cops running the town. The fairly large supporting cast - as well as their wives and mistresses - are a loathsome bunch prone to bashing in each other’s heads when they interfere with each other. Can Ree rise to the top in such a filthy environment? Moreover, should we even be rooting for this guy?

“One from Hell” reminded me of the 1983 Al Pacino movie “Scarface” in that both stories track the rise of a sociopaths through the twists and turns of burning criminal ambitions. The Jada Davis paperback isn’t a crime-fiction masterpiece - the plot meanders too much for that - but it is a compelling and violent character study that is definitely worth checking out. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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