Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Larry Kent #794 - Hello Dolly...Goodbye

By 1974, Australia’s sexy and violent Larry Kent series was reaching the end of its 800 installment run. In fairness, the first 500 or so were magazine novellas before the series switched to independent short paperbacks in 1965 while continuing with the same sequential numbering. The character of Larry Kent was an American hardboiled private eye similar to Mike Hammer, but he occasionally drifted into espionage work in the tradition of Chet Drum. Today we join Kent in a more traditional P.I. mystery called “Hello Dolly...Goodbye,” the 794th entry in the series. This one was written by an American named Don Haring who emigrated to Australia after WW2 to write a slew of the Larry Kent adventures before his 1981 death in Honolulu at age 58.

The short novel really starts out on the wrong foot as I had to read the first chapter three times to understand the setup. The writing was stylistically fine but extremely unclear. Here’s what I could figure:

Kent is engaged by an NYPD detective on behalf of the department to solve the mystery of two police officers who recently disappeared. One of the missing cops is the kid brother of the detective who hires Kent. That much is clear. The missing officers were investigating a list of names, but the relevance of the list is unclear. The client cop mentions that the list has something to do with a mob from Chicago “interested in aliens.” I assume they meant foreigners and not E.T. Kent also mentions the Secret Service, but there was no indication of why, and the agency is never mentioned again in the novel.

Another thing unclear to me was the era. This paperback was published in Australia in 1974 and takes place in New York City. However, on page one of the novel a character says, “This cop is a client...Write down in your clients’ book. Twentieth of May, eighty...” Does this book take place in 1980? The future? Everyone in the book used a 1940s vernacular and wears fedoras. There’s also a reference to Sonny Liston, an American boxer who competed from 1953 to 1970. I don’t know what to make of any of this, and I guess it really doesn’t matter. The paperback just felt very unstuck in time in addition to the opaque plot.

Anyway, Kent begins working his way down the list of names just like missing cops did. The first name is a famous television personality named Grant Kelso. Unfortunately, Kelso gives Kent the slip before anyone could explain the plot to me. Eventually, he learns that the list of names are all millionaires who belong to a fraternal organization called The Nations Club. Some members are tied into a group that is, in fact, moving people in and out of the U.S. in a scheme that was never entirely clear.

In the author’s defense, there are lots of great scenes in “Hello Dolly...Goodbye” in which Kent is either kicking ass or getting his ass kicked. The hardboiled P.I. patter is amusing and borders on parody at times. Moreover, the collaboration scenes between Kent and the police were also fun to read. Kent shoots and fights his way closer to the truth regarding the two missing cops, but the eventual solutions were rather unsatisfying.

I recently read Larry Kent #642: “Curves Can Kill,” from 1965, and it was awesome - one of the most satisfying private eye-espionage mashups ever. It was also written by Haring when he was clearly at the top of his game. The only thing I can figure is that the Larry Kent series was winding down by 1974, and Haring began just phoning it in to fulfill his contractual obligation because “Hello Dolly...Goodbye” is a total mess. However, I’m not giving up on Larry Kent because I’ve seen how good the series can be. Going forward, I’m going to avoid 1970s installments unless I get a solid tip on a particularly good one from that era.

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