RARA-AVIS: Gold Medal: The Deadly Pay-Off

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 28 Aug 2002

THE DEADLY PAY-OFF, William H. Duhart (Gold Medal #805, 1958). This isn't top-rate Gold Medal. Maybe I've only been seeing the cream, like JDM, Prather, and the Marlowes, but they can't all be gems. This isn't awful, and it's not boring or just blandly average, but Duhart's not a polished writer.

The story concerns Tank Tabor, a gambler in Milwaukee. I didn't know Milwaukee was riddled with corruption in 1958, but this book says it was. Tabor is tough and he gets by well enough to have $6,000 walking around money. His younger brother is a private eye working on a case that comes very close to town boss Arky Calahan. Calahan has Tabor take a warning to his brother, but the brother's too honest, and Tabor gets stuck in the middle. Calahan gets violent and soon Tabor's on the run and trying to get out of frame-ups.

One thing I really like about the book is that is has a glossary at the start, but it's strangely unhelpful. It tells me "tyro" means novice. Merriam-Webster says it's meant that since 1611, and it's only used once in the book. "Jive mackman" apparently means "wierd person," which is new to me. I'd have assumed it meant pimp. That phrase is used many times throughout the book, often in the same scene. "Rancho" is slang for house, as if we couldn't guess, but some slang in the book that Duhart must have made up isn't listed. He doesn't have a good sense of how people use slang, or of how violence affects people. Tank Tabor is brutally beaten and minutes later he's up and about. A woman is tied down and raped by three men, and minutes after Tabor has killed them she's kissing him hungrily.

Some things surprised me. There's some unexpected use of language, phrases like "little junkie bitch," which pop up a few times out of nowhere. Some sex and violence seems to have been added in a misguided attempt at pulpy titillation. If a woman has proud breasts, or melon breasts, you know you'll be hearing about them again.

Then there are the metaphors and similes. "The green Bikini she wore would have made a snake dancer's G-string look like a pair of Italian pantaloons." "At least he thought she was his girl until he came home from an eighteen-month stay in a Japanese prison camp and caught her on her back, looking over a jodie's shoulder, with nothing covering her writhing body but him and perspiration." Now, that's got some style, and so does another bathing suit that doesn't have enough material to make a handkerchief for a midget. But Duhart can't make the language flow naturally. In two pages he has Tabor fist a gun and sleeve blood off his forehead, and later he curbs a car. It made me think Duhart needed to dictionary some verbs.

One good character is Tabor's cell-mate for a night, a young black man named Jock Adams. His skin colour is mentioned once, when he's introduced, and then there's nothing more said about it even though he and Tabor team up. That surprised me in a 1958 book.


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : http://www.miskatonic.org/ : Caveat lector.

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