RARA-AVIS: Evan Hunter sex book

From: Curt Purcell ( curtpurcell@hotmail.com)
Date: 17 Oct 2007

Here's the text of a review I just wrote of two sleaze paperbacks, one of which was probably by Evan Hunter. To see the covers (which I highly recommend, though be warned that they are NSFW) and get the benefit of embedded links, check out the original review on my blog:


Nightstand Sleaze Double Feature!

There's been some debate recently over at the RARA-AVIS forum (devoted to hardboiled and noir fiction) about the relative merits of pseudonymous sleaze, and its place in the canon of various authors who've gone on to achieve distinction. Many authors are reluctant to discuss or even acknowledge these more-or-less pornographic novels hacked out quickly for a paycheck, typically in the early parts of their careers before they found their voices. Even at the time, most did not want to be associated with this type of fiction; thanks to an impenetrable wall of pseudonymity, built of house names and cemented with often-conflicting attribution between the covers and title pages, it's now all-but-impossible to know who really wrote what in many cases.

The damn shame of it is that, though much sleaze is truly, wretchedly unreadable, much of it also flashes with rough brilliance, and you even find the rare minor masterpiece that's obviously received some loving polish. Sometimes, it seems, the fast hack-work tapped deeper concerns and inspiration, in something like the manner that automatic writing is supposed to do, with much more interesting results than the authors might have intended, expected, or desired.

Here are two published by Nightstand, one excellent and one middling-to-good, both with amazing covers by Robert Bonfils, and both sharing the theme of troubled children growing into murderous stalkers of prostitutes.

LUST DREAM by Dean Hudson (Nightstand 1962)

Sean McClain catches his mother in the act of prostitution only moments before his father does, and then watches helplessly as his father strangles her right before his horrified eyes. The father dies shortly afterward in prison. In the orphanage, a kindly doctor tries desperately to undo the damage to Sean's psyche, and tries to help him work through the awful recurring nightmares depicted by the cover illustration. But Sean is too badly twisted, and his sweet romance with the clinic nurse is shadowed by the secret vomiting and compulsive showering he does alone each morning after every night of love. The doctor despairs when Sean announces his intention to join the police force, knowing that the poor boy is hell-bent on joining the Vice Squad so he can act out both his fascination and his hatred of prostitutes.

This is about as fine a sleaze novel as I've ever read. The sex scenes are sometimes touching, sometimes quite erotic, only once or twice lapsing into rote mechanics. The scenes of violence are shocking and repulsive, all the more so since they always follow the sex. Sean is no cookie-cutter sociopath; he's intelligent and curious, longs for real love, and wrestles with great sorrow against the demons that prevent him from achieving it. The childhood trauma backstory might sound clich鬠but his complex, evolving responses to it never are.

This was almost certainly written by hardboiled master Evan Hunter/Ed McBain. If indeed it was, in my judgment it's one of the best things I've read by him under any name. Earl Kemp has a provocative article about Evan Hunter's authorship of sleaze like this, and the next article down on that same page includes Lynn Munroe's capsule review of this title and others by "Dean Hudson."

HARLOT HATER by Don Holliday (Nightstand 1965)

Now this one is quite a bit cruder than Lust Dream, but still by no means a poor telling of this type of story.

Lucas first catches his father frequenting a hooker, then discovers that his mother secretly works as one, too. He actually observes a gangbang in which she's cheerfully triple-penetrated! Both parents die as a result of their involvement with prostitution, and a badly warped Lucas grows into a masked, rubber-suited slasher/vigilante!!

He's on a fateful collision course with Margaret, a lesbian, and her bisexual lover, Zoe. The cover illustration depicts a moment from the climax, which is actually more violent and gruesome than the picture suggests. The closing chapter caps it all off with a twist that I suppose I should have seen coming.

This one spends too much time on flashbacks, which really drag in places. You could do much worse, though, if you're looking for a dose of crazy nastiness--it certainly delivers on that promise!

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