Friday, February 4, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: "A Ticket to Hell" by Harry Whittington

Harry Whittington is a hardboiled writer who probably needs no introduction. Anyway, here's the introduction. Harry Whittington's got a nickname, "King of the Paperbacks." It's a hard-earned name gained by writing something like 85 in the span of a twelve years across the spectrum of paperback companies from the top shelf to the bottom one. He wrote tough tales of bad guys, bad dames, crime, murder, sex, destruction that are cocked full of tough-guy patter and clean, chiseled out of stone prose. Can you imagine coming up to a spinner rack in some drug store in the 50's and finding it stuffed with desperate books by the likes of Day Keene, Bruno Fischer, Gil Brewer, Dan J. Marlowe and Harry Whittington? Maybe a Orrie Hitt and a pseudonym Whittington behind the counter in the "adult section." Salad days, my friends, salad days.  

Whittington was so busy that pulp-scholars are still tracking down "lost" novels that he might have written. And he's worth the hunt. A long stretch back in my day-hobby (hopefully day-job) of making and working on low-budget films someone with a passing interest in "noir" as they called it started talking to me about the genius of Jim Thompson, spurn no doubt by the films made from Thompson's books. I read all my Thompson when I was a moody teenager. Checked out from the school library no less! Now every time I try one as I've gotten older, I'll usually stall out. I've only ever made it through "The Getaway." Though I still have a stack of them and bought one just last week. Cause, maybe someday things with look bleak enough for me that I'll lift my spirits with the bleakness found inside the covers of his books. They've just stopped being my jam. Anywho, I told this filmmaker that they needed to try Harry Whittington and Day Keene and rattled off some titles for them. I wonder if they got the taste, maybe they would when someone gets smart and starts making a movie or limited series out of Keene or Whittington's stuff.

"A Ticket to Hell" stars Ric who shows us his paperback-bruteness in the first chapter by kicking a punk out of his speeding bathtub Porsche. He's a mysterious stranger who doesn't fit in with all the fancy stuff that's surrounding him, the swanky car, bag and motel that he's hiding out in, waiting for a phone call and trying to keep a low-profile. The .35 Smith and Wesson automatic (yeah, despite the funky caliber a real gun, I looked it up) that is in his shoulder holster feels natural for him though. This is the kind of book where plans go sideways. Soon enough he's wrapped up in an attempted murder, a lovely bride, a goon of a husband, a nosy and lusty hotel lady, cops, G-men, Judges and ex-wives. The plot unfolds masterfully, with Whittington giving you just enough bits and pieces of Ric's story as the action comes fast with speeding car chases, fisticuffs, mounting suspicions that burns through a "man on the run" tale and morphs into a "man on a mission" story. Ric's a fine protagonist for this kind of book. He's rough around the edges with a chip on his shoulder, but not a remorseless cold-calculating killer. Just a guy who'll do what it takes to succeed at what he started. He maybe a "bad guy" but he's easy to root for.

I've been on the lookout for Whittington's books for like, fifteen years and I basically never find any in the wild of used bookstores. In all that time I think I've stumble across "A Night for Screaming," and one or two of his westerns. Besides its original Gold Medal edition, the book was reprinted by Black Lizard books and Barry Gifford back when they were doing the pulp-gods good work. Stark House Press has reprinted a lot of his work in nice singles, doubles or triples. "A Ticket to Hell" is not the hardest book to track down, but I don't fall into many Black Lizard books anymore either. Plus, this doesn't seem to be available as an eBook, so snatch a book up and enjoy, because this really is a great book for a 50's crime fiction newbie or an old hat at it. All these old 50's crime books just keep climbing up and up in price so get them while you can or just let me buy 'em. 

1 comment: