Wanton Wench! by Jerry M. Goff, Jr. (Merit Books, 1961)
Previously, I noted what a wonderful find Jerry M. Goff, Jr. was, author of the hardboiled L.A. noir, Thrill Crazy, and a dozen Merit titles.
Since then, I have found out a few things about Goff — that’s his real name, and he also did a few Neva/Playtime titles as Jerry Lane. He passed in 1992 in Milwaukee. Apparently Richard Prather at one time sued him because one of his books resembled a Shell Scott yarn.
Wanton Wench! is another hardboiled ditty set in Los Angeles and Marina del Rey, the rich peep’s yact land between Venice Beach and Malibu. (I once had a picth meeting there on the boat of some yacht bum turned film producer.)
The narraor is one Johnny Saueterne, 27, a professional diver who escaped Cuba, where he was working, afte Castro’s goons were killing Americans. He retuns to southern California, where he went to UCLA, working odd jobs to get through school. He learned how to dive in Santa Monica.
He has $33 to his name and no prospects…
He’s answered an employent ad for a diver, dangerous job, top pay. He heads to a mansion in Play del Rey, with a sailboat yact that cabins 4 on the outside dock, called the Lovenest. He enters a home with many cameras and monitors and is interviewed by a faceless female voice, Benit Dean.
Benit needs someone to dive deep and find her husband’s body on the ocean floor. Her husband, Tony, was shot by a passing speed boat, but everyone thinks she killed him, desipte the fact a grand jury voted not to indict.
Johnny takes the job. He’s broke, and Benit turns out to be a gorgeous redhead with a body to die for, as her husband did. She’s young too, having married a rich older man, as these women tend to do in noir tales.
There’s also her sister, Anita, a petite blonde bombshell who is also a sex freak, he finds out that same day. She offers him her body and money to not take the diving job. She’s done the same for other divers. She says she feels if the ody is found, it will be come to light that Benit killed her husband.
Other people “feel” the same — no one wants Johnny on the job, and he is threatened and bribed.
Benit also owns a ritzy nightclub, the Licorice Stick, inherited from her husband — seems a local mob guy wants to buy her out but she refuses, so sends goons to harass her, and kill Johnny. Johnny kills two of the goons, and later two more. Johnny leaves a lot of dead bodies, looking for a dead body.
Of course, he winds up sleeping with Benit, despite her saying her body is not part of the job. But she finds out he’s been doing Anita and she’s jealous, and wants him too, and confesses love at some point.
Funny how this set-up is similar to Orrie Hitt’s Two of a Kind, that I am reading today: the guy jumbling two rival sisters.
Here, we soon find that Anita has been setting her sister up for the fall — she was having an affair with Tony and wanted Tony to leave Benit…all her life, she has been jealous of her older sister getting whatever she wanted.
Anita has also been a nudie picture model and knows a lot of unsavory types, like goons she can hire to bump Johnny off, which only backfires when Johnny kills the goons…
Wanton Wench! isn’t the greatest noir novel — there are some flaws — but it’s a damn fine, fun read, and both Brewer and Whittington have written lesser books in their time. If other Goff books prove to be as good as the two I’ve read, perhaps a Stark House revival is in order? Or a reprint from Hard Case or Black Mask…let’s bring this obscure fellow back to light.
The titles alone say it all…Tropic of Carla, Autobography of a Pervert!, Rocco’s Babe, Abnornal Assault, Victim’s of Lust...