From: abc@wt.net
Date: 02 Aug 2002

I decided to re-read a few books that I didn't remember too well. The first was Charles Runyon's The Prettiest Girl I Ever Killed, from 1965. James mentioned that small towns in fiction have secrets. Well, the one in this book has a serial killer. Over the years there've been a number of deaths, all of them appearing accidental. They weren't. Two sections of the book are narrated by the killer. The rest of the story is told by a woman who lives in the town. This is a well-written story, but maybe not hardboiled.

Then there's Ride the Gold Mare (1957) by Ovid Demaris. Didn't someone say that life in the early Middle Ages was
"nasty, brutish, and short"? That's a pretty good description of this book. Too much jive talking, maybe. Some brutal drug scenes. A great scene where a crooked cop puts a gun in a guy's mouth and pulls the trigger: "For an instant the gun lighted up Lopez's face like a pumpkin, making a muffled, swishing sound. Then the slug was ricocheting with a ping, ping off the brick wall." It's not as tough as Demaris wanted it to be because he (or the editor) is forced to have characters say, "Don't crap me" and "Love your mother!" Demaris was good.

It's probably hard for anybody these days to see the appeal of a title like Richard Wormser's Drive East on 66 (1961), but I'm old enough to remember the romance of that road and of highways that went right through the small towns instead of by-passing them. This one's about a cop hired to take a big-shot's kid to a place where he can get treatment. Things happen along the way. Wormser was medium tough, and he knew plenty about telling a good story.

Edward S. Aarons wrote a lot of books about Sam Durell, one of which was Assignment: Maria Tirana (1960). An American astronaught is down behind the Iron Curtain. He happens to be engaged to Deirdre, Sam's longtime lover. There's a brutal spy named Hammett, and plenty of complications in what you might think is going to be a pretty straightforward story. Aarons was always good on local color. The pacing is good, too, and I'd call it hardboiled all the way, if a little sentimental.

Bill Crider

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