Harry Whittington, |
To Find Cora
Like Mink, Like Murder,
Body & Passion
(Stark House, 2009)
In the 1950s and '60s, if you needed a paperback original novel written, Harry Whittington was your go-to man. Writing under a dozen names, he cranked out more than 100 novels, so many that dozens got lost -- he lost track of his pseudonyms and had no record of the books; they had to be resurrected by scholarly detective work after his death, a story told in the introduction to this volume. A suspense writer, Whittington specialized in fast-moving action, featuring men at the end of their ropes, simply trying to make their way, who got caught up despite themselves in desperate situations -- usually because of a woman.
In this volume, Stark House, the California press that specializes in reprinting hard-boiled novels of the '50s, offers three of Whittington's books in a single volume. If, like me, you're new to his work, you're in for a welcome surprise. If you've read him before, you'll be glad of this opportunity to get to know him again.
In To Find Cora, originally published with the title Cora is a Nympho, Joe Byars sets out to find his wife, Cora, who has run off with another man in rural Oklahoma. There, however, he meets Viola instead and winds up held prisoner in a farmhouse by a disturbed man named Hall, an embezzler who is hiding out until it is safe to start a new life with his stolen money. Byars and Viola decide to execute a desperate scheme to free themselves and take the stolen money to boot.
Like Mink, Like Murder, originally published in France where they had more respect for our noir novelists than we did, young Sam Baynard finds himself embroiled in as tight a situation as Joe Byars, and once more a woman is to blame. Baynard was a part of Collie Kohzak's robbery team until he was caught and served five years in prison. Out now, he is going straight, working as a milkman, when Elva, Collie's girl and the woman Baynard has always lusted after, shows up, followed by Collie himself. Baynard finds himself caught up with Kohzak once more, forced to participate in a payroll robbery of the dairy he works for.
Body & Passion is the most unusual novel of the three. District Attorney Ben Young has framed Jeff Taylor, another one of Whittington's characters who wants only to get out of the racket and start his life over again, for murder. In a showdown between the two men, a fire breaks out. One of the men is dead and the other is burned beyond recognition. When he recovers he has amnesia. Which one is he, Taylor or Young? Both men have enemies and, whoever he is, his life is in danger.
Whittington's plots, once they are set in action, proceed in a lightning fast, straightforward line; there are never any sidetrips. But the amazing thing is, they never go quite where you think they are going. Whittington is one step ahead of you all the way.
The man gives a lot of pleasure. Read him.
Michael Scott Cain
18 July 2009
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