Swamp noir was a popular American sub-genre of the 1950s and 1960s born from the idea that the rural backwoods was teeming with sexy, duplicitous babes seeking to take advantage of city slickers who crossed their paths. In 1962, sleaze-fiction maven John Burton Thompson (1911-1994) got into the act with Swamp Nymph, a short novel that has recently been reprinted by Cutting Edge Books.
Charles Carraway III is a 30 year-old wealthy scion of a chemical company who just caught his wife showering with her tennis partner in his mansion filled with servants. He responds in kind by forming a sexual relationship with his Swedish maid - a coupling that, for various reasons, can never be more than a fling. To escape all the problems of the world, he heads south to Louisiana in his private plane for a much-needed vacation.
The Swamp Nymph in question isn’t introduced until well into the paperback. Her name is Shayne, and she’s a 19 year-old beguiling beauty living near the Amite River in rural Louisiana. She was sexually assaulted at a young age and has avoided the company of men ever since despite a desire for love and intimacy. Thompson does a nice job of making Shayne sympathetic and attractive to male readers who will want to rescue this girl from her own past.
For nearly the whole novel, the plot toggles between the Charles story and the Shayne story. The book is really not about their romance because they don’t even meet until 85% into the novel. The entire plot is just a series of life events and romantic near-misses that eventually bring them to the same swamp community at the same time.
It’s hard to tell from the cover of these swamp paperbacks if a particular book is a crime-noir novel in disguise (like Harry Whittington’s Backwoods Tramp) or just a standard soft-core sex story. Swamp Nymph is definitely not a crime novel, and the sex scenes are so tepid that they’d hardly raise an eyebrow today. It’s really the story of When Charles Met Shayne and it takes a pretty basic, rather lengthy and mostly unremarkable route to get there.
Thompson was a better writer than his genre deserved, but his plotting in Swamp Nymph was a slow road to nowhere. I didn’t hate the book, but life is short. You deserve to be reading better books than this one.
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