During the 1950s, Harry Whittington was so prolific that he employed a cadre of pseudonyms to keep his sales flowing to a variety of paperback publishing houses. His 1952 novel “Savage Love” was published under the pen name Whit Harrison and was later reprinted in 1956 under Whittington’s own name as “Native Girl.” It remains available today as a cheap ebook (free with Kindle Unlimited) under the original title and the pseudonym.
“Savage Love” takes place on the pre-statehood Hawaiian Island of Maui where Coles has just relocated at the urging of his friend Victor who is married to a “native girl” named Lani. From the first page, the reader can smell trouble ahead for these three when Coles, our narrator, describes Lani as a “goddess molded out of fiery golden flesh.” When he accidentally walks in on Lani undressed in front of a full-length mirror, the poor bastard becomes smitten and obsessed with his best buddy’s wife.
Victor owns a pineapple and sugar cane plantation and hires Cole as an overseer of the business operations. When Victor is attacked by a hostile employee, he is waylaid and consigned to rest and recovery under the care of the plantation’s domestic help. However, you’d hardly know the difference between Victor at work and Victor at rest as he is an advocate of the laid back island lifestyle. This enables Cole and Lani to spend some quality time together as Cole learns the ins-and-outs of the business.
As the narrative progresses, we learn more about Cole’s background and the real reason he was willing to leave his girlfriend and accounting career behind on the U.S mainland to start a new life on Maui. The temptation Cole feels for Lani is a white-hot lust coupled with the appropriate guilt and reservations that eventually lead to an explosion of violence and murder. Nobody writes a femme fatale story like Harry Whittington except for maybe James M. Cain. And “Savage Love” probably owes more than a little to Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice” from 1934.
“Savage Love” is seldom cited as among Whittington’s best work, and that’s a shame. This book is a familiar fatal attraction story transplanted into an exotic setting with a Hawaiian temptress, but it’s also a satisfying piece of noir melodrama from a master of the genre. I’d put it up there with Cain’s “Postman” and Gil Brewer’s “The Vengeful Virgin” as among the best of this type. The fact that it remains available as an eBook costing you next to nothing should push smart readers over the edge to pick up this underrated classic. Highly recommended.
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