Thursday, February 10, 2022

By Her Own Hand

Los Angeles native Frank Bonham (1914-1988) specialized in westerns, young adult fiction, and television scripts. Between 1941 and 1952, Bonham honed his skills by writing for the pulps. He authored only three crime-noir novels, including By Her Own Hand. It was originally released in 1963 by Monarch Books. 

In an undisclosed California city, Captain Chilton is taking over the Plaza Division police station. Before Chilton, the department had spiraled into a rather chaotic, under utilized precinct. This portion of the city reflects the old guard and braces for the new. Caught in the transition are two Vice Squad Sergeants Skip Kawano and Lou Michikowski. Both are feeling the heat as Chilton increases the pressure to clean up the streets.

Like most traditional police precincts, the way to topple the top echelon of crime is through prostitutes. They are the perfect informants and mostly the police lay off their profession in exchange for valuable bits of information on criminal rings. The same thing occurs here as both Kawano and Michikowski utilize prostitutes to gain valuable intel. In turn, other precincts rely on these same prostitute informants to minimize crime waves. But, Chilton doesn't see it that way. 

At 126 pages, Bonham's novel is more like a quick novella. Mostly, the action is around an investigation into a murdered prostitute to determine what information she was withholding. Chilton's department faces intense opposition for arresting the prostitutes and removing them from the streets. Included in the investigation is a side-story that leads into the porno movie business. For a 1963 novel, Bonham doesn't pull any punches in terms of explicit imagery. This side-story involves a gangbang that's recorded in an after hours park. The scenery, time of day, and skill of the photographer allows the investigation to branch off into some unusual places. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this quick read and found it to be slightly ahead of its time. Also, the characters and plot are soaked in realism due to Bonham's involvement in youth gangs and urban violence. He advocated for peace and was often riding along in police cars to learn firsthand the negative influences affecting California's youth. To my knowledge, By Her Own Hand has never been reprinted, but affordable used copies are still available. It's worth your time. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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