Along with Harry Whittington, Gil Brewer and John D. MacDonald, Day Keene (real name Gunnard R. Hjerstedt) presented many of his crime-noir novels in Florida locations. These prolific authors were Florida natives or had simply adopted the state as their home. Often, these crime-fiction talents would even spend weekends together swapping ideas and fishing along Florida's Gulf Coast. So, it's only natural that their literary works were spotlighted by the Sunshine State. Day Keene's “Hunt the Killer” (1952) exemplifies that trait.
When readers first meet Charlie White, it's on the last day of his
prison sentence. As he is stepping out of a Florida prison, there's a
backstory explaining why White wore stripes for four-years. White, a WW2
veteran, owned a fishing boat and was making a meager living
hauling in fish from warm Gulf Coast waters. Married to Beth, the two
lived in an older Victorian styled house on a small island near Tampa.
With dreams of escaping normality's prison, White was delighted to
receive an anonymous call from a man simply calling himself Senor Peso.
This unusual caller asked White if he would like to make $2,000. The
$2,000 quickly snowballed as White found himself illegally importing
goods, duty free, into Tampa. After a few successful imports, White was
caught by the Coast Guard and sentenced to prison.
Upon his release, White is picked up by the beautiful Zo, a Cuban woman
that White was having an affair with before his capture. The two head to
a coastline cabin to celebrate White's release. However, White discovers
a letter that his wife wrote him advising that she has forgiven him for
his past discretion and would like to reconcile their marriage. Truly
loving Beth, White breaks off the fling with Zo. Shortly thereafter,
White finds himself unconscious in the cabin with a gun he doesn't own.
Readers aren't as surprised as White when he finds Zo's corpse riddled
with bullets near by. Who shot Zo?
It's the age-old genre trope – the innocent man wakes up with a corpse.
In the skillful hands of Day Keene, it's still an entertaining
retelling. The novel's first half focuses on White's flee from the
police across Florida, transporting readers into rural and tropical
locations like Ocala, Ybor City, Fort Myers and Palmetto City. There's a
satisfying relationship that White strikes up with an old trucker named
Kelly. But, it's White's visit with his wife Beth that ratchets up the
suspense. Keene's atmosphere – an old, desolate mansion shrouded in
Spanish moss – is nearly a main character as the “hunt for the killer”
propels the narrative. The eventual reveal of Senor Peso was well worth
the price of admission.
Thankfully, this novel has been reprinted by Stark House Press as a
three-in-one volume that also contains two of his 1959 novels, “Dead
Dolls Don't Talk” and “Too Hot to Hold.” There's no reason why you
shouldn't own this in your collection. Purchase a copy HERE.