Thomas B. Dewey was a prolific author that produced 36 crime-fiction novels from 1947-1966. His literary work mostly consisted of three series titles featuring heroes Singer Batts, Pete Schofield, and Mac. However, the author wrote two stand-alone novels under the name Tom Brandt, 1954's Run, Brother, Run! and the subject at hand, 1953's Kiss Me Hard. We reviewed Run, Brother, Run! back in 2018 and haven't had the opportunity to revisit Dewey's catalog until now.
Kiss Me Hard introduces main character Chris Cross as an alcoholic piano player stroking the keys in small-town Ohio. After many songs (and beverages), Cross is seduced by a woman who is escaping from her abusive husband. The woman convinces Cross to join her as she leaves the town and her spouse behind. In a stimulating scene, the woman's husband finds the two making love on the edge of town. Cross, hazy from alcohol and the frantic escalation of the night's festivities, runs away through the forest and hops a train to escape.
On the next stop, Cross hops off and finds himself in a rural stretch of farmland where a carnival is performing. It's here that he runs into a young, troubled woman who asks Cross to help her hop a train. Cross's response is priceless: “I just got off the goddamn thing.” But the decision isn't his to make. Instead, a husky, mountain of a man finds the woman with Cross and begins to become angry and belligerent to the two of them. Cross, overwhelmingly smaller than the man, uses a rock to slow his progress. Cross and this mysterious woman flee to the train and catch it in a fleeting, high-paced conclusion to the opening chapters.
The narrative evolves into a mystery as Cross tries to determine this woman's backstory. Is she a prostitute? A carnival worker? Who's the burly “keeper” of this woman? In an emotional explanation, the woman claims to be Constance Jordan. Upon reading a newspaper clipping she possesses, Cross learns that Constance was abducted at the age of 13 and the world never saw her again. Her wealthy family searched for years through a variety of law-enforcement agencies and private-eye services. The clipping reveals that the Jordan estate is worth millions and that the woman's parents died 8 years ago. The entire fortune went to the family's older daughter Jean. As Cross presses for more information, he begins to doubt the woman's insistence that she is the long lost Constance. Together, the two take a haphazard road-trip to Los Angeles to find some answers.
Chris Cross is so much like David Goodis' fall-from-grace character Eddie Lynn in the 1956 paperback Down There. He's plagued by his alcoholism, and all of his pathways lead to liquor. The booze effects most of his conscious thinking as he is driven to find money to buy booze at the cheapest source. But Cross is painfully embarrassed by his disease, often self-conscious of what others think of his shaky hands and unquenchable thirst. But he's a great piano player who's seemingly wasted his life until now. Constance provides hope and salvation for Cross. Her fortune can buy an endless supply of liquor, but as the novel progresses, Cross finds that his craving for alcohol is somehow rehabilitated by craving this mysterious woman. He wants to be her protector, but the truth behind this mysterious woman is the ultimate mystery.
While not as widely celebrated as his contemporaries, Thomas B. Dewey was a fantastic writer who threads real-world problems into the social context of his stories. Kiss Me Hard could have easily drowned in a romance-on-the-run style novel, but Dewey really turned it into something unique and special. I think you'll really enjoy it. The good news is that you don't to spend a fortune acquiring this vintage paperback. Wildside Press released the Crime and Corruption Megapack in 2016 that features this novel along with A Season for Violence (1966), Run, Brother, Run! (1954) and Empty Saddles (1962).
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