Lost Classics of Noir: Whip Hand by W. Franklin Sanders (and/or Charles Willeford) BRIAN GREENE
From The Criminal Element
In case you’re confused by the author credit in the heading here, let me just say that I join you in your befuddlement. This 1961 noir novel was originally published as a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback original, withW. Franklin Sanders tagged as the writer. But over time it came to be revealed that Charles Willeford wrote some, if not all, of the book. Sanders may have been his co-author, but then Sanders may have also been a make-believe person. If you’re interested in reading up on that intrigue, there is no shortage of material available on the web. I’m going to leave that subplot alone and just focus on the book, which is a gem of a read.
But first a couple words on Willeford. I doubt I need to sell many readers of this site on the merits of his writing. Some Willeford fans might think of his Hoke Moseley series as his finest work, while others might prefer his earlier titles such as Cockfighter (1962) or The Burnt Orange Heresy (1971). Of the Willeford books I’ve read, it’s his second novel, Pick-Up (1955), that I value the most. When I first started this column, I drew up a shortlist (well, it was actually long) of books I might cover, and Pick-Up was among those. I haven’t gotten around to writing an appreciation of it, and maybe I never will for this series, as I have purposely been avoiding covering the same writer twice, in order to spread the hardboiled love. In any case, Pick-Up is a hell of a noir novel. If you like this kind of stuff and haven’t read it, do so. And while you’re at it, read the one I’m about to discuss; because whether it was written by Willeford or this Sanders guy, or some combination of the two of them, it’s pure.
Whip Hand is one of those novels that’s narrated by several different characters. The primary players are: a trio of Oklahoma bumpkins who, while in Dallas, kidnap the young daughter of an oil tycoon and collect ransom; a troubled L.A. cop who has fled to Dallas to duck an investigation into his questionable police activities; the father of the kidnapped child, and the man’s adult daughter. The plot-line is far-fetched, but in reading along you really don’t care, because the story is interesting enough, and the characters are memorable enough, to carry the tale past that problem. The gist is that the cop happens to run into the Okies at a Dallas bus station and, seeing the fancy bags they’re carrying around (the buffoons purchased ridiculously conspicuous cases in which to tote around the ransom money) and wondering what might be in them, he pulls a switcheroo number on one of the dudes and winds up with a satchel full of the cash. After that, he forces the guy to tell him how they got the money, and after that, he decides he’s going to do a vigilante job in bringing the trio to justice (and meanwhile see what might be in all this for himself).
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