Authors Robert Wade (1920-2012) and Bill Miller (1920-1961) collaborated under the pseudonyms Whit Masterson, Dale Wilmer, Will Daemer and Wade Miller. Together, the duo wrote over thirty novels including the 1951 Fawcett Gold Medal noir novel “The Killer,” now available as an affordable reprint through Stark House.
“The Killer” refers to protagonist Jacob Farrow, a successful American safari guide living in Africa. After an infraction on his hunting license, Farrow finds he has some additional free time on his hands. This proves to be convenient as an attorney from the U.S. arrives at Farrow's African home to offer a perplexing opportunity. His client wishes to employ Farrow for a hunt in North America. The payday is a cool 5K to accept the offer, and another 10K if Farrow can kill the intended prey.
Accepting the offer, Farrow arrives in New York to discover the attorney’s client is a customer who Farrow guides in Africa every two years, a skillful hunter named Stennis. Farrow learns that Stennis' son was killed in an armed robbery by a gang leader named Clel Bocock. Stennis, hoping to avenge his son's death, hires Farrow to hunt Bocock, make the kill, provide proof, and collect the payment. The gig is complicated by the fact that Bocock is a high-profile criminal wanted in several states for various robberies. To find Bocock, Farrow will need to remain a few days ahead of law enforcement.
As a 1951 paperback with a sultry cover, the story practically demands an inclusion of a beautiful woman. The authors certainly deliver with Marget, Bocock's estranged wife. In Georgia, Farrow stumbles on the drunken Marget and rescues her from the clutches of a seedy “fencer” who had a personal agenda in locating Bocock's whereabouts. With Marget at his side, Farrow searches from Georgia swamps to Chicago before moving to the rural mountains of Yellowstone park. It's a national whirlwind of hunting, chasing and shooting as the duo attempt to find Bocock's gang.
There's a number of things that work extremely well in “The Killer.” Farrow is a likable hero with an unsettling problem – killing a human after decades of hunting defenseless animals. Not only is it a new, more physical challenge (and illegal), but an overly emotional one. The authors spend a great deal of time focusing on Farrow's internal conflict, while also introducing a ravishing love interest in Marget. However, I found the final scenes rather dull and uninspiring despite a clever twist that brought the storyline a bit more depth.
“The Killer” is simply another 1950s crime novel that shouldn't be altogether avoided, but certainly shouldn't be too high on your essential reading list. The Stark House reprint includes an additional Wade Miller novel in “Devil on Two Sticks,” also known as “Killer's Choice,” originally released in 1949. Both are introduced by the esteemed crime noir enthusiast David Laurence Wilson.
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