After his successful 1951 debut, Hill Girl, Charles Williams (1909-1975) went on to become one of the most respected crime-noir novelists in history. His penchant for rural small-town crime is enjoyable, especially with the sexy female accomplices his novels typically feature. Nothing exemplifies that more than his 1958 paperback original Girl Out Back, expanded from his 1957 novella, “Operator.”
30 year-old Barney Godwin is a complacent businessman in the small lake town of Wardlow. While he isn't fighting with his nagging wife Jessica, Barney runs a profitable bait and tackle shop. It's here where he first meets the luscious vixen Jewel, a woman equally complacent with her abusive husband. While paying for her husband's boat motors, Jessica pays Barney in new, crisp $20 bills which feature a red stain. Thinking nothing of it at the time, Barney is surprised when an FBI agent visits his store inquiring about unusual money in the area. It's here where Barney's life takes a tumble...he tells the agent he hasn't seen any uncommon currency.
Barney's infatuation with the memorable money is rivaled by his heated desire for Jewel. After learning some details about a recent bank heist, Barney begins to unravel the money mystery. He believes he knows the location of the stolen money, but his obstacles are Jewel's gruff husband and an old, backwoods recluse that's obsessed with pulp detective magazines. How they mix into the stolen loot is the bulk of this clever and engrossing narrative.
Without ruining this superb novel for you, Girl Out Back can be described as a tongue-in-cheek look at the pulp crime genre, including a few hilarious jabs at southern romance and plantation novels. Williams is a master of his domain, and it was interesting for me to read the author's commentary, through story, on the crowded 1950s crime-fiction genre. Girl Out Back delivers an intriguing mystery, a sensual beauty, and a tantalizing scheme for the average man to rise above suburban normalcy. It's a captivating triangle that could only be told by the high caliber talent of Charles Williams.
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