After serving in World War 2, James Howard (1922-2000) earned a doctorate in psychology and began writing crime novels as a side hustle. He put his name on the literary map with a four-book series starring journalist Steve Ashe published between 1954 and 1957. The first book in the series was “I’ll Get You Yet” published by Popular Library’s Eagle Books imprint with misleading and uninspired cover art.
As the story opens, unemployed newspaperman Steve Ashe is leaving Neon City for the greener pastures of Omaha. His truck driving buddy Scotty is giving him a lift in a big rig when they narrowly evade an collision with a sedan careening out of control on the snowy highway. After both the truck and the sedan come to a stop after scraping one another, the men rush over to the car to find the female driver beaten within an inch of her life. The damage to her face far exceeds what could have been caused by the mere sideswiping of Scotty’s truck.
After the woman regains consciousness and the blood is cleaned off her face, Steve recognizes his old childhood crush, Vicki. She’s running from a Denver syndicate boss named Mario Carazzi whose goons roughed her up and forced her 17 year-old sister Gina into prostitution by getting the kid hooked on dope. Steve agrees to rescue Gina for Vicki while exacting some revenge on the mobster and his goons. With this promising set-up, we are off to a very Mack Bolan-esque start.
Today we call it “human trafficking,” but in 1954 it was “white slavery” and mobster Carazzi controls the action on the 1,100 mile stretch between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Helena, Montana. Steve begins his hunt in Omaha tracking the syndicate muscle who worked over Vicki. At times, this really felt more like a well-written 1970s Pinnacle book with one man on a revenge mission against the underworld than a 1954 crime paperback. But whatever the era, “I’ll Get You Yet” is some primo vendetta stuff - albeit without a pure vigilante edge - starring a stalwart hero with a self-deprecating sweetie worth avenging.
Steve’s way to ingratiate himself into Carazzi’s organization is to pose as an amateur heavyweight boxer seeking to rise through the pro ranks. It helps that Steve really knows how to use his fists in a scrape, so fans of pugilistic drama will enjoy the boxing segments of “I’ll Get You Yet.” When things go sideways for the hero, there are plenty of outstanding action set pieces. The fact that Ashe is a newspaper reporter is largely irrelevant to the plot until the very end and may play a bigger part later in the series. For the purposes of this debut novel, he’s just a badass. Of course, all of this leads to the climactic confrontation between Steve and Carazzi that you won’t soon forget.
I previously read and reviewed Howard’s stand-alone novel, “Murder Takes a Wife.” It was decent but nowhere near as awesome as this opening installment in the Steve Ashe series. Ignore the lame cover art. This one is a balls-out, hardboiled, 1950s action paperback written for guys like us. I’m confident you will love this paperback as much as I did. It’s really something special.
Steve Ashe series by James Howard:
1. I’ll Get You Yet (1954)
2. I Like It Tough (1955)
3. Blow out my Torch (1956)
4. Die on Easy Street (1957)
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