Friday, March 5, 2021

Johnny Aloha #01 - Dead in Bed

Many authors thrived off of the stand-alone mid-20th century paperback novels, but it was the creation of a recurring or series character that seemingly added additional mileage to the author's literary journey. Like Harry Whittington, Day Keene (real name: Gunnard R. Hjertstedt) is one of the few noteworthy crime-noir authors who failed to create a marketable series character. While mostly unnoticed, Keene did attempt to create one in Johnny Aloha. This Los Angeles private-eye appears in two of Keene's full-length novels, 1959's Dead in Bed and 1960's Payola. Within my budget, I opted for an affordable introduction to Johnny Aloha via the recent Armchair Fiction reprint of Dead in Bed.

As the name implies, Johnny Aloha is half-Irish, half-Hawaiian. After his stint as a U.S. Marine in the Korean War, Aloha became a successful private-eye in Los Angeles. He is summoned to San Francisco by the police to help identify the bullet-riddled corpse of a notorious pusher and pimp named Harry Lee. After the identification, Aloha spends the night planning his long-awaited vacation to Hawaii. His only obstacle is a beautiful woman named Gwen who is in desperate need of Aloha's services in locating her mother, Hope Star. Aloha declines the work but after recognizing a photo of Star, realizes that he knew her from his childhood in the islands. Canceling his vacation, Aloha accepts the $5K retainer to locate the woman.

Dead in Bed doesn't read like a traditional Keene crime fiction paperback. In many ways, it seems as if Keene made a genuine, wholehearted effort to create a stereotypical private-eye who would be fashionable and profitable. It was a red hot market with successful Pls like Mike Shayne, Mike Hammer, Shell Scott and Johnny Liddell exploding off the shelves. I think Keene purposefully writes Aloha under the same premise – a deeply masculine playboy and private-eye with a homely but flirty secretary and a police ally. The books are presented to readers in first-person narrative with the frequent injection of comedic touches. Despite all of the average genre tropes, Dead in Bed was a thrilling read that I nearly read in one sitting.

Gwen and Aloha have this thick sexual chemistry with one other that literally begs to be uncovered (pun intended). After numerous attempts at lovemaking, the two are always interrupted by an attempted murder, an unwanted guest or a snafu of the right time at the wrong place. Enveloping the sexual tension is the fact that Aloha mostly uses his wits and hands in place of pulling his revolver. There is gunfire, but most of it is aimed at Aloha. While the core mystery was delightful, the characters that Keene weaves into the story's fabric really add a much-needed backdrop for the mystery to evolve.

The Armchair Fiction reprint features both Dead in Bed as well as a novella by Bruno Fischer called Bones Will Tell. At $12.95, this is an easy pill to swallow. I can't wait to read Payola (never reprinted to my knowledge) to learn more about Aloha's next case. The sequel will hopefully determine why this private-eye never had any longevity with the author or publisher. In theory, there's nothing really separating Aloha from any of the other formulaic private-eyes of the era. Why didn't Keene make a more sizable play with what should have been a long-running series mainstay? Perhaps we'll never know.

Buy a copy of the Armchair Fiction reprint HERE


  1. Seems like Tom has really taken over this site with his hard-boiled 1950s crime novels. I hope you get back to reviewing more men's adventure and spy novels to broaden this blog.

    1. Every review this week has been from Eric.

    2. Fair enough. But Tom has clearly pushed him in this direction. Before Tom came along he was almost exclusively reviewing men's adventure novels, right?

    3. Eric and Tom met in October 2017, and Eric invited Tom to begin writing for Paperback Warrior in November 2017. Eric still runs all things regarding Paperback Warrior and has complete creative control over what happens in the site and the podcast. Eric regularly borrows books from Tom’s library (which is slightly bigger than Eric’s) to read and review. The upshot is that Eric reviews whatever he wants, and Tom mostly does as well. Since the partnership began, Paperback Warrior has evolved from a men’s adventure paperback site to a general-interest vintage paperback site. If there are titles you’d like us to tackle, please let us know. We are very interested in book recommendations.

    4. And long may the current format continue!

  2. I just discovered Paperback Warrior--look forward to catching up on your reviews, especially pulp/crime fiction