Although he authored more than 170 novels during his 40-year career, only a small fraction of Harry Whittington’s books are available today in any format. I’m hoping that one day the Whittington Estate can marry up with an enterprising publisher to keep the author’s back catalog alive through modern reprints and ebooks. They can start with Hell Can Wait, a 1960 paperback that hasn’t seen the light of day in 60 years.
Our narrator is Greg Morris and he has come to the backwoods town of Koons Mills with a score to settle. Over a year ago, Greg’s wife was killed in a car accident caused by the town’s boss, Saul Koons. At a subsequent civil trial, Koons arranged for false testimony to get himself off the hook and convince the court that the accident was Greg’s fault. After spending a year away mourning the loss of his wife, Greg is back in Koons Mills hell-bent on justice and revenge.
Upon arrival, Greg gets his ass kicked by a group of Koons’ employees while the town’s sheriff declines to interfere. It becomes clear that no one has any interest in helping Greg bring down the town’s patriarch and primary employer. If Hell Can Wait had been written by Don Pendleton, Greg would have gotten his satisfaction with a long gun and a sniper scope. But this is a Harry Whittington paperback, so what does he do? He tries to seduce Koons’ saucy young wife.
Hell Can Wait is a slow-burn of a novel but very compelling. It’s more of a mainstream revenge story than a normal crime fiction paperback. Well, the ending was pure noir, but I won’t spoil it here. Greg is a menacing and rather creepy character for a protagonist, and Koons is a very nuanced villain whose behavior is a bit odd throughout the book - until the twisty ending explains all. At no point did I really know where the plot was headed, which is saying a lot in a genre that usually abides by fairly rigid formulas.
Overall, I can recommend Hell Can Wait as a fun puzzle-box of a vintage paperback. It’s not quite top-tier Harry Whittington, but it will certainly be on your mind long after the last of the 144 pages are done.
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