E. Howard Hunt authored over 70 novels utilizing pseudonyms including David St. John, Gordon Davis, John Baxter and variations of his own name. He also used the name Robert Dietrich to write 12 novels, 10 of them featuring a fictional Washington D.C. tax accountant named Steve Bentley. The character debuted in 1957's Murder on the Rocks and continued with two to three books per year through 1962. In 1999, Hunt revisited the character with one final chapter, Guilty Knowledge. Cutting Edge Books has released several of them as affordable ebooks. I really enjoyed my experience with the series debut and was happy to obtain a digital copy of the second installment, 1959's End of a Stripper.
The story begins with Bentley entertaining an old war buddy at a swanky strip-club called Chanteclair. It's here where Bentley first sets eyes on a gorgeous Scandinavian stripper named Linda Lee. Enthralled with the woman, Bentley notices that a shady man is taking quick, discreet photos of Lee. After a few minutes, the man is assaulted by two bouncers and hauled outside. Right before his exit, the man furtively slides his camera into Bentley's pocket. After the show, Bentley has a private-eye friend analyze the photos only to determine they are just poorly lit, poorly planned shots of Lee. But, Bentley learns the man taking the photos was a bottom-shelf private-eye named Mousey found murdered in a nearby warehouse. After Bentley is visited with threats to return the camera, the narrative accelerates to furious pace under Hunt's talented writing skills.
With Bentley the target of the bouncers and whoever hired Mousey, the only solution is to discover the identity of the mysterious stripper. In doing so, Bentley finds himself mired in the inner workings of politics in the D.C. beltway. Using his trusted ally Lieutenant Kellaway, the duo investigate Chanteclair's ties to a wealthy criminal mastermind and his connection with a secretive U.S. Congressman.
Hunt's second Bentley thriller is an intriguing, pulse-pounding hardboiled crime-novel with all of the desirable genre tropes – sultry women, crooked men and the inevitable chase for wealth and power. End of a Stripper is a more superior offering when compared to the series debut, Murder on the Rocks. Both are excellent, but it's Hunt’s narrative that readers will find fascinating. His contemptuous views of 1959's amoral Washington D.C. serve as a prophetic message for readers in 2020.
In an odd twist, it is Hunt himself who would later contribute to unlawfulness in our nation's capital with his involvement in the famed Watergate Scandal. Despite the author's political experiences, Hunt proves once again that he can write the proverbial hardboiled crime classic again and again. End of a Stripper may or may not be one of his best literary offerings. After all, he authored over 70 novels, so further investigation is warranted.
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