Showing posts with label Beacon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Beacon. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Bait

According to his bio, William E. Vance (1911-1986) taught creative writing and worked for the Federal Aviation Administration in Utah. The author's short stories first appeared in the early 1950s in magazines like Argosy and Esquire. He turned to paperback originals, penning over 40 novels including western and crime-fiction. Using the pseudonym George Cassidy, he authored more racy romance novels including The Flesh Market, Wanton Bride, Assignment: Seduction, and Sin Circus. Stark House Press chose his 1962 novel Bait to reprint as Black Gat Books #59.

Melody Frane is 17 years old and living in a one-room shack on an Arizona migratory farm. Daily, she performs hard labor and arrives home to hear the rhythmical sounds of a squeaky mattress holding her drunk mother and a hoodlum. Melody wants out, and she has the knock 'em dead good looks to rise above her sorrowful lifestyle. Her meal ticket might be Harry Ransome. 

Harry is the town's wealthy entrepreneur, holding the keys to the city through real estate, investments, and solid business savvy. However, most of his success comes from swindling young women like Melody as special concessions to close the big deal. When Harry propositions Melody for the big plays, she hesitantly accepts. Soon, she's wining and dining in Los Angeles while attending a performing arts school that hopes to firm up her mind and soul to deliver the goods. She's forced into uncompromising situations with Harry and his business associates while pining for the real love of her life, a hard-working pilot that works for Harry.

Bait was originally published by Beacon, a sleaze publisher that mostly offered very tepid sex scenes (what we would consider PG-13 today) peppered through a gripping human conflict story. Author Charles Boeckman wrote some of the best Beacon paperbacks as Alex Carter, and Bait sort of falls into the same overall theme. Vance presents the glitz and glamour of the high-dollar white-collar, but underlines it with a blue-collar “fish out of water” story of a small-town girl pressured into unfamiliarity. As a breezy read, take the Bait and enjoy. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

A Woman Possessed

A Woman Possessed was a 1961 paperback by Harry Whittington, writing as Whit Harrison. The book is a crime noir paperback packaged as a sleaze novel for the original Beacon Books release. Fortunately, it’s been reprinted as a double by Stark House along with 1952’s Prime Sucker. The new edition includes an insightful introduction by pop culture scholar Cullen Gallagher.

As with the best of Whittington’s novels, he wastes no time getting into the plot. Convicted murderer Dan Ferrel is an inmate on a prison road gang swinging a grass sling to cut down the weeds along the steamy highway. Nobody else knows that Dan is expecting company. Namely, a woman named May who should be roaring up any minute in a blue car to facilitate his escape from the shotgun-toting guards.

Of course, the escape happens and Dan is on the run. May is smitten for Dan, but it’s clear that Dan is just using his psychological hold over May to manipulate her into facilitating his getaway. Dan has another woman on his mind - an old flame with whom Dan has a score to settle.

The second plot thread involves Dan’s brother, Paul. He’s the good kid of the family who is going to attend medical school and make something of himself. Paul just started dating a night club singer — always a disreputable profession in these books — and the songbird is pressuring Paul to join her in a heist, so they can be together with a little cash for a change.

The prison guard overseeing the road gang is Virgil Hawkins, and he’s a gun-crazy psychopath just looking for a reason to kill an inmate. When Dan escapes the road gang, Virgil takes it as a personal affront and takes vacation time to hunt Dan himself. This was a great storyline that I wish the author had further developed.

This is top-tier Whittington: Violent, exciting and compelling. The Beacon Books imprint also means sex scenes a few notches more graphic than the usual 1961 fare. There’s really nothing not to like about this one, and thanks to Stark House, you can read it without spending an arm and a leg. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Change Partners

Celebrated jazz musician Charles Boeckman (1920-2015) authored crime-fiction novels, westerns, and short stories for the pulps and digests in the mid 20th century. Using the pseudonym Alex Carter, Boeckman authored racy sleaze novels for Beacon Books. I read, enjoyed, and reviewed two of these novels, Boy-Lover (1963) and Traded Wives (1964). I thought I would try another one, Change Partners, originally published in 1963.

In 1960, Ernest Evans, known as the famous singer and dancer Chubby Checker, released a cover of Hank Ballard's song “The Twist”. The song, and Checker's dance move, lit up the club floors and had incredible success on radio. But, “The Twist” dance was considered pretty provocative for 1960. 

In Change Partners, Les Kennedy arrives home from his photography studio to find his suburban housewife Vicki doing the Twist dance in his living room. The way her hips and buttocks twist and shake puts Les into an immediate sexual surrender. After the two make love, they agree to head to the local country club to dance the night away. It is here that Les gets drunk and Vicki gyrates with a used car salesman. Spotting his wife's sexy dance moves on the floor with a stranger, Les makes a club spectacle by dragging her to the car and back home. Things aren't looking good for the Kennedys.

Pretty soon, the club incident spills over into marital disharmony when Vicki begins an affair with the used car salesman from the dance. In retaliation – you know where this is going by the title – Les strikes up an affair with the couple's friend and dance instructor Sybil. The married couple's sexual encounters with other people makes up the bulk of the narrative.

Before you start thinking this story seems tepid and dull, let me remind you that this sort of novel isn't a far stretch from what Gil Brewer and Orrie Hitt were doing with their own sexy crime-fiction. Arguably, those authors created crime stories with the real focus being the tumultuous affairs and sexy flirting to propel the plot. Boeckman is just missing the crime element in his books, but to be clear there is a crime committed in Change Partners that provokes some jail time for the main character. But, it isn't anything exceptional. Instead, the author pursues the hot chemistry and sex (never graphic) that the characters experience as their marriage deteriorates. The emotional baggage, insecurities, guilt, and motivation to adultery is what makes the narrative twist and turn to the literary music.

Like Boy-Lover and Traded Wives, Boeckman pens another gem with this portrait of suburban marital Hell. If you enjoy the riches-to-rags fall from grace noir that stems from crime-fiction, then you'll love this book. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Object of Lust

Like a lot of working authors of the paperback original era, Charles Runyon (1928-2015) supplemented his income as a mystery and science-fiction writer by authoring titillating sleaze novels using a pseudonym. Black Gat Books, an imprint of Stark House Press, has unearthed a 1962 title Runyon wrote under the pen name Mark West for a contemporary reprint.

Marian, age 35, is a bored and lonely housewife and mom who is initially receptive to the flirtatious advances of 22 year-old Lewis Leland. Things escalate into hot-and-heavy make-out sessions for the pair in the woodsy confines of the lake resort town where Lewis works teaches high school girls how to water-ski.

After Lewis saves Marian from drowning in the lake, they get together on-the-sly for some thank-you-sex, the encounter ends abruptly when they are almost caught together in the woods by some local kids. Marian develops cold feet and loses the fire in her belly for young Lewis. The problem? Lewis doesn’t want this forbidden romance to end and goes into a full stalker mode.

Unlike most novels about creepy stalkers, this one is partially told from the creep’s perspective. This is a trick that Runyon also employed in his groundbreaking serial killer novel from 1965, The Prettiest Girl I Ever Killed. Runyon does a particularly good job of getting the reader into Lewis’ infatuated head, and the writing is particularly solid.

Unfortunately, the paperback isn’t a crime-suspense novel throughout. Instead, the plot swims in the histrionics of the daisy-chain of affairs and infidelities among the summer lovers in Marian’s orbit. It’s pretty standard fare for a 1960s sleaze paperback and nothing you haven’t read before if you’re familiar with the genre.

To be clear, the scenes with Lewis becoming increasingly unhinged were pure gold. For my money, I’d have preferred more creepy stalker stuff and way less relationship drama filler. Is this book worth your while? Runyon was definitely a unique talent, but this isn’t his best work. It’s not much better than a mediocre Orrie Hitt book covered in some light suspense shrink wrap.

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Motel Trap

The book is called Motel Trap, with a blurb suggesting its contents are prostitutes, pimps, and sex elements. But, the whole “motel” thing happens on page 147 of 155 pages. You might ask what the first 147 pages of the book are about, right? Try this on for size – its about the pantyhose industry. 

Motel Trap is essentially an episode of Mad Men as protagonist Dave Shelton wheels and deals his company's silk pantyhose to retail chains hoping to reverse the company's downward spiral. The narrative focuses on marketing ideas, photo shoots, women's catalogs, etc. Not exactly provocative or riveting reading.

Western novelist Lee Floren, who authored Motel Trap under one of his many pseudonyms, Matt Harding, was well outside of his element to tackle softcore, sleazy romance titles. This novel was published by Beacon in 1962, a company that was notorious for hundreds of romance paperbacks, each with gaudy blurbs like, “Her office was a motel room!” 

Kudos to Floren for at least attempting to write a serious novel, like Beacon's own Charles Boeckman, who was writing the same type of books for the publisher as Alex Carter. But, unlike Boeckman, Floren's novel is predictable, penned in a pedestrian style that doesn't captivate the reader. 

While its not a Hall of Shame candidate, Motel Trap is certainly lodging in the vicinity. Unless you are collecting this stuff, with “artist unknown” cover art, then for God's sake just stay away. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Traded Wives

Celebrated jazz musician and author Charles Boeckman authored crime-fiction short stories and novels using his own name through the mid 20th century. However, using the pseudonym of Alex Carter, he authored racy, sexually-charged romance paperbacks for publishing houses like Beacon. I've enjoyed his writing, especially his Alex Carter novel Boy-Lover (1963). I recently purchased another Carter novel, Traded Wives. The book was published in both the US and Canada simultaneously in 1964. The American version was published through Beacon (8711X, cover artist unknown). The Canadian version by Softcover Library (S95157) recycled Clement Micarelli's painting from Orrie Hitt's 1962 novel Love Thief.

The novel presents three couples and a single woman living in a new housing community called Garden Acres. Each of the couples is struggling in various ways that revolve around intimacy. Boeckman depicts each marriage through revolving chapters that explain each character's backstory, the evolution into marriage, and the physical wants, desires, and jealous rage within this sexual suburbia. 

Debbie and Bobby have just moved into Garden Acres after graduating from high school and becoming pregnant. Their parents are wealthy, respectable contributors to the community that can't afford any negative influences. They immediately force the two kids to become married and quickly convert the couple into expecting, stereotypical middle-class suburbanites. The problem is that Bobby is still running around with the town's young hotties and Debbie isn't thrilled to be settling down after bedding down the senior class's male students. That's a real problem.

Charles is an alcohol distributor and sales rep that travels the back roads of America selling booze. He smokes cigars, drives a Cadillac, and has a loud-mouth that mostly spews dirty jokes. After meeting backwoods country girl (and virgin) Barbara Lee, he talks her into marriage and they quickly move into  the thriving sexual landscape of Garden Acres. Barbara Lee wants to pursue a college education and learn more about the modern world. After conquering Barbara Lee, Charles sets his eyes on his neighbor Cheryl. 

Tony is a white-collar guy living the American dream – playing golf on the weekends, mowing green grass, and relaxing in the shade with his newlywed wife Cheryl. The problem is that Cheryl isn't into sex, thus creating a physical barrier between the two. Tony is sexually frustrated with Cheryl and she is equally angered with his insistence on intimacy. 

Boeckman was just such a great storyteller of these noir novels. Despite the titles and covers, these novels aren't any different from a Nora Roberts novel today. There are no graphic sex scenes or much (if any) profanity. In cinematic ratings, these are probably PG-13. But, that doesn't make them any less intriguing or enjoyable. 

The story-lines are detailed with plot and character development that's simply superb. The narrative thrusts these unhappy couples into a wild mix of sex, fantasy, and appeasement. Debbie with Tony and Bobby, Cheryl with Tony, Charles with Cheryl, and Bobby with a divorced, sexually starved woman named April. It's a mingling of affairs and it's fantastic. I also enjoyed the “crime-noir” aspect of Tony, Charles, and Cheryl's love-triangle. It becomes violent and engaging and is probably the real highlight of the novel. The end result is that Traded Wives is highly, highly recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Nude in the Sand

The 1950s and 1960s publishing industry experienced a trend of authors and readers embracing swamp-noir, a concept that features the average man being tempted by a seductress in the backwoods of a rural southern town. Charles Williams and Harry Whittington both excelled in this type of storytelling, which led countless other low to mid-echelon authors to try their hand. Louisiana author and WW2 veteran John Burton Thompson (1911-1994) authored these types of novels. As expensive collectors items now, these vintage paperbacks demand a hefty dollar. 

Thankfully, Cutting Edge Books have gained the rights to Thompson's literary work and have made a number of his novels into new editions for an affordable price. After enjoying his 1962 novels Kiss or Kill and Swamp Nymph, I decided to take another swig with Nude in the Sand. It was originally published by Beacon in 1959. 

The most entertaining aspect of Nude in the Sand is that there isn't a main character. Instead, Thompson uses the novel to tell many different stories about the backwoods shenanigans of several different characters that have merely six degrees of separation. By the book's end it all wraps together cohesively in a satisfying conclusion that crosses these mini-stories over (and under) each other. 

Lecia is a 20 year old vixen living with her mother on a run-down farm. Hope and aspiration are shooting stars rarely glimpsed and never caught. In a bid for money, Lecia's mother sells her off to a wealthy man named Alex who takes the two to his sprawling estate. Lecia is destined to be the despondent, pregnant housewife pushing out babies to create Alex's dynasty. The problem is that Lecia despises Alex due to his violent sexual craving and his affairs with a black slave.

Across the fields is Abe, a retired wealthy man of nobility that has a young black lover named Charline. Readers learn Abe's history with Charline, how he funded her college education, cared for her needs, and is now secretly engaged in a relationship with her. Abe and Charline frequent a hunting cabin where the two intimately share their love. But, Abe understands the age difference and the fact that the town will be thrown in a violent upheaval if their interracial love affair were to be exposed. 

Abe's nephew Merrit is a college graduate and artist that hasn't quite found his footing yet. Abe allows Merrit to live on his estate and find himself. Instead, Merrit finds an imprint in the sand made by the nude Lecia. Over time, Merrit becomes obsessed with the imprints and starts to make a bronze statue of this unknown woman. Lecia doesn't realize that her daily visits to this jungle swimming hole are being captured by the imprints she makes in the sand. Eventually, Merrit and Lecia learn of one another and are connected through Abe. When Lecia's husband Alex begins making moves on Charline, the narrative becomes more complex and enticing – Abe vs Alex over Charline. Merrit lusting for Lecia despite her marriage to Alex. There's also another side story of a male slave that hates Alex for raping other slaves. 

With this many moving parts, it would be hard for any author to excel at all of these concepts and designs. But, Thompson is such a great writer and purposefully develops this plot into a burning bed of affairs, relationships, violence, and raging sex. The novel certainly possesses enough tropes to make it a swamp-noir, but at the same time it also works as a plantation novel, or what some refer to as a “slave gothic”. Alex's violent encounters with the strong, more domineering slave named Bruce makes for a humorous, albeit savage, thread in the story's web of self-pursuit and sexual gratification. Abe's relationship with Charline is nurturing, but is laced with strong dialogue that reflects the civil unrest of a country at war with itself in the mid 20th century. 

Nude in the Sand is a riveting, hot-blooded account of sexual affairs running rampant in the Deep South. With colorful characters and multi-faceted, interlocking storylines, John B. Thompson creates a whirlwind suspenseful romance novel ripe with violence and racial unrest. Fans of Charles Williams, Harry Whittington, and Erskine Caldwell should find plenty to like. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Untamed Lust

Orrie Hitt (1916-1975) was a family man living in upstate New York barely making a living while he cranked out 150 sleaze paperbacks between 1953 and 1970 — many of which had significant crime-fiction elements. Untamed Lust was a 1960 Beacon Books release by Hitt that remains available today from Prologue Press and as an audiobook.

Eddie Boyd is a 23 year-old down-and-out farm worker who arrives at Wildwood Acres looking for a job hunting and trapping vermin on the estate. The master of the manor is Frank Jennings, a wheelchair bound drunk with a contempt for the wildlife he’s hiring Eddie to kill. In any case, Eddie takes the job for $300 a month, plus room and board at the upstate New York plantation.

The maid at the estate is a busty babe named Joan, with whom Eddie used to consort. Now that they’re living under the same roof in the servant’s quarters, they could resume their strictly-physical relationship. Seems simple enough until we learn that sweet Joan has marriage on her mind.

Not so fast! Eddie meets the lady of the house, Mrs. Jennings (“Call me Kitty”), and she’s a sex-on-fire, hot-pants-wearing minx. Then there’s Carole, Mr. Jennings’ conniving daughter, an irresistible sexpot with impossibly big breasts and a small waist. For his part, Eddie finds himself with a set of burning attractions that could cost him his livelihood.

Eventually, Eddie finds himself in the middle of the rivalry between Carole and Kitty for eventual control of the plantation. Eddie is pressured on multiple fronts into taking action that would provide him financial independence and a substantially upgraded sex life — fueled by his ambition and untamed lust for a trio of pulp fiction femme fatales.

Hitt’s novels often contain interesting details about the protagonist’s careers, and this one is no exception. In addition to being titillated, you’ll also walk away with a master’s degree in the art of trapping wild animals. Hitt underscores the cruelty of the practice and uses this as a means to define the characters and their motivations. This is unusually smart writing for a sleaze paperback and the reason why Hitt was so much better than his contemporaries.

Despite being derivative of James M. Cain’s work, Untamed Lust remains one of Hitt’s best novels. The ending was a little tidy for me, but the ride along the way was pure melodrama for imperfect men. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE. Get the eBook version HERE.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Boy-Lover

Charles Boeckman (1920-2015), a celebrated jazz musician, authored short stories for the pulps and digests through the mid 20th century. He also wrote paperbacks including mystery, western and suspense. In his autobiography, Pulp Jazz: The Charles Boeckman Story, Boeckman elaborates on the name Alex Carter, a pseudonym that he used to author a number of racy romance novels. In the book, he says he didn't want readers to connect these novels directly to him. He learned of Robert Turner, an author for the publisher Beacon, spending a night in jail for writing “pornography.” He didn't want to experience the same fate. It's a real shame that readers couldn't connect Boy-Lover to Boeckman considering its quality. It was published by Beacon in 1963 with a painted cover by Clement Micarelli.

Babs is in her late 20s, has a ravenous sexual appetite, and is mired in the suburbs with her tired, complacent husband Art. Instead of providing Babs hours of ecstasy, Art's idea of a good time is hosting tame neighborhood parties, discussing mechanical issues concerning  the couple's car, or just sleeping like a log. Babs is craving the sins of the flesh and has horny housewife eyes on a young mechanic named Jack.

Jack recently graduated high school and is now working at the local garage. When he delivers Bab's repaired car to her house, he is shocked to find her sunbathing in the nude while Art is at work. Babs slaps the seduction on thick as the experience increases from lemonade to dancing to bedroom antics as Jack loses his virginity to this gorgeous married woman in grand style. But, as you can imagine, Babs and Jack aren't fulfilled with just one encounter. Soon, they are sneaking out to do the nasty in abandoned parking lots, the closed mechanic's shop, and eventually into an apartment outside of town. It's here that Babs and Jack are shocked when their affair is revealed.

Boy-Lover isn't explicit by any stretch of the imagination. It's all PG-13 if it was released today. Boeckman's novel works exceptionally well as a character study – Jack as the inexperienced youth experiencing an accelerated maturity and Babs as the frustrated housewife that feels no purpose. The two need something from each other, but it isn't an emotional connection. Their responses to changes in their lives is met by sex – simply sex, nothing more and nothing less.

Boeckman takes readers through the rocky relationship that Jack and Babs feel. We feel Jack's frustration as a mechanic in a new town - the low wages, the impending poverty, the scorching cement – and sympathize. In many ways, this 1963 glimpse at the lower-class hasn't changed. It's timeless as these problems are eternal for generations of Americans. Jack contemplates the money left over on payday and has to decide if his last savings should be spent on a movie and popcorn. Alternatively, the upper middle-class Babs realizes what blue-collar money is worth. She is used to expensive cars, fine dining, and the ability to shop for high-quality wine and clothes. She faces a new awakening under Jack's small, but hard-earned, salary.

Boy-Lover is way better than it ever has a right to be. The cover is gorgeous, but it doesn't do the author or the publisher any real justice. This is just a fantastic novel that makes you feel a responsibility to the characters. On the last page I felt the impact of these two lovers and the impromptu life they led. I felt their emotional connection, their financial struggle, and the challenges they faced in an unconventional relationship. In a way, this is Boeckman's take on youth, the end of innocence, and the daunting threat of impending adulthood. I really enjoyed it and I think you will too. Recommended! 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, October 22, 2021

Paperback Warrior Primer - Orrie Hitt

Orrie Hitt (1916-1975) was a suburban family man in upper New York who was quietly one of the most successful creators of sleaze paperbacks in the 1950s and 1960s. His plots were largely noir fiction with a heavy dash of non-graphic sexuality and bad decisions driven by greed and lust. During his life, he authored upwards of 150 novels before dying penniless. As a tribute to his life and literary work, Paperback Warrior offers an extensive look at author Orrie Hitt:

Hitt was born in Colchester, New York in 1916. When he was 11 years old, his father committed suicide. Hitt obtained a job at a hunting lodge in upstate New York to make ends meet while his mother worked as a hotel chambermaid. Meanwhile, Hitt was a high school student. As a sophomore, he advised his teacher that he wanted to be a writer, and his teacher did what all good teachers do – she shattered his dreams by telling him that he was never going to make it as a writer because his English language skills were unsatisfactory and that he was too much of a dreamer.

While working at the lodge, Hitt gained hunting and outdoors experience. Hitt sold his first articles about hunting as a high schooler to hobbyist magazines. When he became a senior, he and his former English teacher both submitted articles to an educational book company. Hitt's article about shooting was accepted, and his teacher’s submission was rejected. 

After Hitt's mother died, he became an orphan. Later, he joined the Army at age 24 and served in some capacity in WW2. After his military service, Hitt married Charlotte Tucker on Valentines Day, 1943, and together they eventually had four daughters. In the years following the war, Orrie worked as an insurance salesman, a radio disc jockey, a roofing and timing salesman, a frozen food salesman, and a handyman. He had about 16 jobs during that post-war period, and he wasn’t writing much because he needed the steady paycheck to feed his wife and growing family of daughters. During that period of time, he relocated to Iceland for a year to work at a hotel. This job afforded him a lot of downtime, so he used it to write his first novel, I'll Call Every Monday, published by Avon in 1953. 

It’s clear that Hitt was a fan of James M. Cain, and a lot of his books were re-workings of Cain’s Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice. The formula is that a drifter falls in love with a married woman. Together, they conspire to kill her heel of a husband so they can obtain the husband’s money. Of course, things go sideways, as they do anytime you fall for a murderous wife. That’s the template used by lots of writers in the 1950s, and Hitt went to that well many times in his own writing.

Hitt returned to upstate New York and became a full-time novelist. He set his manual Remington Royal typewriter up on the kitchen table and worked the entire day cranking out 90 words per minute. He lived on iced coffee and Winston cigarettes and he wrote book after book. He was a faithful husband and attentive father while all day, every day, he wrote about guys who were duplicitous heels who couldn’t keep it in their pants. In real life, Hitt was nothing like the characters he wrote about in his books. 

Early in his career, Hitt developed relationships with “adults only” publishers like Beacon and Midwood who bought and published his books. Hitt found a good niche for himself as a writer of sexy fiction – often sexy crime fiction – but his publishers played up the sex and down the noir. Hitt was trying to make a living, so he kept writing the books he knew how to write and receiving advances of $250 to $1,000 per book for his paperbacks. His sleaze publishers gave him a lot of freedom to write what he wanted because they knew that they were just going to slap a silly sleaze cover on his books. 

Between the years of 1953 and 1970, Hitt had about 150 original novels published under his own name and a variety of pseudonyms. There is a robust collector’s market for sleaze fiction, and his original paperbacks tend to get top dollar. The most affordable options are the reprint houses like Stark House Press, Prologue Press, and Automat Press. 

Here's a "buyer's guide" on some of Hitt's novels:

If you want a James M. Cain style novel about the protagonist falling for a young woman married to an older rich guy where they plot to murder the husband:

- The Cheaters (1960)
- Dial M for Man (1962)
- Two of a Kind (1960)

Novels starring a young woman trying to survive by using her body to pay the bills: 

- Campus Tramp (1962)
- Four Women (1961)
- Trapped (1954)

Novels that expose the behind the scenes world of prostitutes and their tragic origin stories:

- Trailer Tramp (1957)
- Nude Doll (1963)
- Naked Model (1962)
- Girl of the Streets (1959)
- Party Doll (1961)

Hitt also wrote under several pseudonyms including Kay Adams, Joe Black, Charles Verne, and Nicky Weaver. Between 1953 and 1960, Orrie Hitt was producing about 20 books per year. His productivity slowed down gradually thereafter. By 1964, he was down to about four books a year, then three, then one. He essentially just ran out of ideas. The book contracts disappeared and his money ran out. A lifetime of working 12 hour days at his kitchen table drinking iced coffee and smoking cigarettes caught up with him. In 1979, he died in debt in a veteran’s hospital at age 59. 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Dial "M" for Man

Orrie Hitt is often dismissed as a sleaze fiction author, but I think that’s largely unfair. His paperbacks were certainly packaged as tawdry sex novels, but the first thing a horny reader will notice is the almost complete lack of graphic sex. You’ll also probably notice that he was often an outstanding writer whose plots veered heavily into the moral ambiguity of a femme fatale crime-noir story. Case in point: Dial “M” for Man. The 1962 release has been reprinted by Stark House as a double along with Hitt’s The Cheaters.

Hob Sampson is a TV repairman who is called out for a repair job. The lady of the house is named Doris, and she’s a real dish. Her way-older husband - Mr. Condon - is a crooked real estate developer who also serves on the board of directors at the bank that just rejected Sampson for a loan. He seems to be going out of his way to make Sampson’s life miserable. Upon arrival at the house, the seductive Doris is wearing a skimpy bathing suit, and her husband isn’t home. She’s super flirty, and Sampson is a man who knows what he likes.

You know and I know what eventually happens. Sampson isn’t immediately able to give her the tube she needs, so he agrees to come back to take care of her while Mr. Condon is out of town. There’s a lot of interpersonal stuff between Sampson and his virginal quasi-girlfriend and his deadbeat buddy that rounds the story out and gives Sampson the motivation to have Doris for himself.

If the story of a TV repairman plotting to kill a rich guy for his money and sexy wife sounds familiar, you’re not alone. It was also the plot to Gil Brewer’s paperback The Vengeful Virgin from four years earlier. In all fairness, Brewer’s novel was just a re-working of James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, and the femme fatale story structure has been copied countless times since. While Hitt makes the story his own, he still probably should have made the narrator a plumber or a carpenter to make his borrowing of the plot structure more opaque.

As is often the case in Orrie Hitt novels, the reader learns a lot about the main character’s chosen profession. I find this stuff fascinating, and I now feel like I have a Masters Degree in TV retailing, reception and repair. In 1962, Hitt notably predicted that cable TV would be the future of America. (He did not, however, foresee Netflix Streaming.)

Dial “M” for Man was a total blast to read. The first-person narration from Sampson gave the reader a palpable sense of the lust and greed that leads an otherwise honorable man to make some deadly decisions. Hitt’s ending was also pitch perfect. With 148 books in his writing career, this is an author who should be viewed as a master of his lowbrow genre, and I’m happy that there are reprint houses like Stark House keeping his name alive.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Pick-Up

In 1955, Charles Willeford (1919-1988) was in the U.S. Air Force stationed in California and later Newfoundland. That was the year that his second published novel, Pick-Up, was published as a paperback original from Beacon Books. Since then, the novel has been reprinted several times, so finding an affordable used copy should be a cinch. Moreover, it’s also currently available as a eBook.

Narrator Harry Jordan is a short order cook in a San Francisco diner working a quiet night shift when Helen Meredith arrives to have a cup of coffee at the counter. She’s very pretty and very drunk. Harry’s also a prolific boozer, so they hit a bar together after work. Helen has just arrived in town, and it’s clear that being shitfaced isn’t a rare thing for the girl.

Harry and Helen fall madly in love, and the reader is treated to a dysfunctional romance between two hard-core alcoholics with room-temperature IQs. It’s a lot like a David Goodis novel, but Goodis always thrusts his hard-luck losers into crime-fiction dilemmas fairly early in the novel. Willeford appears to be taking his time getting to the point until it finally occurs to the reader that there is no goal here other than bearing witness to the protagonists’ descent.

Pick-Up isn’t a much crime novel, and other than a couple bar fights, there’s not much action. Technically, there’s a killing but not the kind we normally see in paperbacks from this era. As expected, it’s rather well-told, but the book is basically just a prose blues song about two suicidal drunks in a doomed romance.

The final line of the book has a plot twist of sorts that probably knocked readers on their asses in 1955, but isn’t nearly as shocking 65 years later. In any case, I found Pick-Up to be a well-written slog that doesn’t hold up to brilliant Willeford works such as The Woman Chaser or Wild Wives. Your time is better spent elsewhere.

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