Friday, September 16, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: To Kill a Dead Man by Charles Runyon

Charles Runyon is one of those authors I had been meaning to read for, I don't know, ten plus years. I never seemed to luck into any of his books but in the sphere of Gold Medal Paperbacks a lot of people praised his work, so I was always on the lookout. Luck struck at the local libraries book sale where I scooped up a lot of his Gold Medals and this Major release. Runyon seems to be more remembered for his work in science fiction and that seemed to be what he preferred. Knocking off the crime stuff for the cash. Sounds criminal.

I got a soft spot for Major books. They aren't usually for everyone. There's a lot of weird and funky sometimes not-quite good books honestly. This isn't one of them. This is a rock-solid crime novel. Boy howdy, I know it was for the cash, but Runyon did lay down the good. Makes me wonder how it landed at such a low-tier publisher. It's easily better than a lot of what Fawcett put out in the 70's or Dell or Pyramid or Popular Library. Maybe it was just too hard-boiled, because this is rough and tumble book. At first glance it seemed like it could have easily been in the 50s-60s run of Gold Medals. But then it hits some lurid twists that are right out the 70s-era paperback. 

Johnny Quill is the right-hand man/paid killer for a mob guy named Fabius. It starts with that old gem: someone who needs to die has their buried treasure and the villains want it. Quill is sent to kill 'em good. But quickly transforms in an "on-the-run" book once he meets Norma the dead man's woman. Then it's a siege novel on a small tropical island. All the while Quill proves that he's a hard-man. We're talking Earl Drake or Parker hard. He doesn't hesitate to survive and doesn't much think about what he's had to do, i.e., murder of the innocent. His relationship with Norma is the center of the book and it's one not of conventional "love" but passion, boredom, necessity and eventually a recognition that she's as much of a survivor as he is. 

Oh, and there's a bunch of action. The siege is compelling and well thought out. Quill goes around killing and collecting an armory like he's in a video game as Fabius and his boatload of goons waits offshore and send waves of reinforcements. Both trying to figure out how to get to what is SO close but nearly impossible to get to kill their troubles away. Fabius is a sick and slick villain who's smart and taught Quill everything he knows; they spend much of the book at loggerheads because they are too similar in nature.

This one NEEDS to be republished. If it was published by a bigger company, I'm sure it'd have a little cult following, instead of being a footnote and outlier in Runyons bibliography. If you like Drake, Parker or Quarry, seek this one out. 

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