Back in the 1950s you could run but you couldn’t hide from Harry Whittington. Those were the days when many if not most paperbacks were sold in wire racks found in drug stores, grocery stores and what were then called dime stores.
Harry told me that he’d once seen five books of his displayed on the same rack, all published that month. He worked for everybody, from Gold Medal all the way down to Carnival. He did westerns, nurse romances, tie-ins, war stories and of course crime novels. The last was his true calling. There there was no sub-genre of suspense/mystery he didn’t like. Or apply himself to.
I mention Harry because Stark House Publishing has just published two of his best in a single attractive volume, A Night for Screaming and Any Woman He Wanted. I should also mention here that I’m a free-lance editor for Stark House, though I’d be reviewing this two-fer with the same enthusiasm even if I weren’t.
Harry’s world was not one of ratiocination. There wasn’t time for that. Most of his white working class protagonists were on the run from cosmic forces that would have given Lovecraft pause. In Night, for instance, the villain is so oppressive you seriously begin to wonder if the protagonist will survive. Seriously. The setting is one of those labor camp where drifters and small-time cons are forced to toil for the local politicians who make money on them. If the characterizations are less subtle than COOL HAND LUKE, the violence is every bit as painful. There are two scenes that literally made me wince. Harry knew the Deep South all too well.
Any Woman is a working class nightmare of a different kind. A once crooked cop stumbles on to a situation even he doesn’t want to cover up and joins his former enemy the DA in trying to right it. But the DA dies mysteriously and the cop is forced to go after the mob that runs the town by himself. Although this is a familiar 50s theme (the crooked town), Harry throws in a complication that makes the story personal and harsh. Harry always said that he knew how to do two things – plot and create characters. And this book proves that wasn’t any empty boast.
Here’s the Stark House website: http://www.starkhousepress.com. Publisher Greg Shepard is bringing back the favorites of the 50s including Malcolm Braly, Gil Brewer, Stephen Marlowe, Day Keene, Vin Packer, Doug Sanderson and now Harry Whittington. He needs your support and I feel he deserves it, which is why I’m lending a hand. As I mentioned on my blog the other day, I recently paid $15 for a paperback from ABE. Well, I just got it today. It’s yellowed and the spine cracked when I opened it. Stark House sells two-fers (two books per volume) in handsome, sturdy editions for $19.95 that will last much longer than most pbs. I have no financial stake in this, I merely want to see the line thrive. Check out the website.