Quint is a soldier returning from overseas to resume his life in the Florida swamp town of Chadd City. His intention is to start a business selling wholesale lumber and marry Trudy, the sweetheart he left behind before his deployment. While on the bus ride home through the mangrove thickets and gator bogs, a sultry seatmate with swelling breasts is being super-flirtatious with Quint.
Before Quint joined the Army and left Chadd City, he was a pathetic cracker from the swamp, but Uncle Sam matured him into a man with ambition and a plan to make something of himself. His home is run by a powerful and corrupt town boss, and we quickly learn that the flirty dame on the bus is the boss’ wife returning from the beach. Quint has a particular axe to grind with the powerful local who was responsible for sending Quint’s father to prison where the old man eventually died.
However, the core drama here is about land. Quint owns many acres of cypress wilderness swampland that he wants to harvest for his lumber business. Meanwhile, the town boss has his eyes on that land for his own purposes, and his lusty wife is caught in the middle with her own agenda. The struggle between the men is a tense powder keg leading to an inevitable explosion of winner-take-all violence.
As if one femme fatale isn’t enough, Like Wild gives us a second: Trudy’s 17 year-old kid sister Lorrie, a saloon waitress who is hot to trot for Quint since his return. In the swamplands, 17 is practically an old maid, and Lorrie is not a woman who intends to let her best years go to waste.
Allen is an amazingly good writer, and I marvel that this compelling crime novel was once packaged as a low-end sleaze paperback. The author’s descriptions of hand-to-hand fistfights are among the best I’ve ever read, and the characters are vivid and fully-formed. Most swamp noir is pure dreck, but Like Wild is a definite winner.
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