I got this one because Feral House used the Robert Bonfils art for the cover of Sin-A-Rama, so I was curious about the book — as in, was the story as good as the “water baby” theme art (that Bonfils also uses for Don Elliott’s Lust Queen, soon on my reading list).
Boy was I pleasantly surprised. This is a great little novel, a lost gem in the blackhole of sleaze paperback publishing….take out sleaze, I would not call this novel “sleaze” per se…it is a hardboiled tale of a guy who has gotten himself into a few tangles in Los Angeles and is trying to wiggle out.
I have no idea who Robert Carney is — Sin-A-Rama calls him “Robert H. Carney” who used a pen name, Herbert Roberts, from what I can tell one novel, Mardi (on my list). The only other Robert H. Carney books I can find is a non-fiction title about the Atlanta Times. There is a Robert H. Carney in Atlanta on Facebook who seems the right age to have written this 1961 novel…maybe it is him and this is not a another pen name who Whomever.
Carney is influenced by Nathaniel West, but there’s also some James Cain and Jim Thompson tossed in there. The prose is lean, mean, and to the point.
Joey Allen is a used car salesman whose former partner destroyed their business by gambling, then killing himself. Joey wants to be rich. He is sleeping with three women and trying to keep them from each other — a former fiance he has dumped, a new fiance whose father owns used car lots all over California, and the bosses new, young, hot wife, who hates her fat rich husband and his spoiled daughter, and has a plan for getting Joey to committ murder, promising him the car business, money, and her sleek slender body.
Like any good hardboiled Los Angeles story, there’s plenty of drinking, sex, violence, colorful characters, Malibu, and Hollywood smog.
Finding these great lost novels is fun — it’s also depressing to think they are lost, and a book like this was not re-discovered by, say, Black Lizard, the way Harry Whittington’s noirs were.
Harry Whittington was a pulp writer who penned in many genres, but is best known for hardboiled crime and nurse romances (I will talk about his The Young Nurses at some point, as well as more of his Greenleafs). Lynn Munroe recently put together a catalogue and narraitive of his search for Whittington’s softcore:
In 1986, the prolific “king of the paperbacks” Harry Whittington (1915-1989) wrote an essay about his writing career entitled “I Remember It Well” for Black Lizard Books. Black Lizard used it as an introduction to the 1987-88 reprints of six classic hardboiled crime stories, originally published by Gold Medal and others. In that piece, Whittington revealed this:
“ I signed, in 1964, to do a 60,000-word novel a month for a publisher under his house names. I was paid $1000. On the first of each month. I wrote one of these novels a month for 39 months.”
These 39 unknown books became “the missing 39” for Whittington collectors.
These “missing” books were published under house names J.X. Williams and the ever-prolific John Dexter, and Curt Colman later on, ranging from crime, romance, office, and hardboiled themes. Lynn Munroe notes:
John Dexter and J.X. Williams are well-known house names used by many different authors, but Curt Colman is a more obscure name. No one I’ve talked to, including Colman’s editor Earl Kemp, knew who Curt Colman was. Only eleven of this publisher’s books are credited to Curt Colman, and seven of those were in the box in Whittington’s house. It was a safe bet to look at the remaining four Curt Colman titles, and all four of them proved to be written by Harry Whittington.
Kemp did not know who Colman was since the manuscripts were coming from the Scott Meredith Agency, true identitfies hidden. Plus it seems Whittington’s wife did not approve of these books by her prolific husband, and Whittington kept them secret until after his passing.
The first was Lust Farm, as J.X. Williams, with (again) a Robert Bonfils cover; it is another James Cain/Jim Thompson infuenced story set in the Detroit farmlands. Cora has escaped her brutal criminal thug boyfriend from Chicago, but he finds her in a small town working as a waitress. She “accidentally” kills him and goes on the run. In another town, as a waitress, dodging men, she meets a 50-year-old farmer, Aaron, and marries him. She’s 22. She figures she can lead a safe, quiet life as a farmer’s wife.
Here is Lynn Munroe’s review:
We tend to think of “backwoods” stories taking place in some hillbilly hollow or in the deep South, but LUST FARM takes place in Michigan. Not in any city, but out in a rural setting near a little town called Cold River, down the highway from Lansing. There is no such town in Michigan, but there is a real town on that highway called Coldwater, and LUST FARM is certainly set there. Small town waitress Cora Barnes has a secret. She has fled her previous life, killing the Jack Daniels-guzzling sadist Tony and stealing a package of his money. A kind farmer named Aaron Barr marries her and takes her out to the country to live on his farm. When his college-age foster son Caleb comes home from University up the highway at East Lansing, it’s lust at first sight for Cora and Caleb. Then someone disappears and the local sheriff comes out to the farm and starts asking questions. With names like Aaron and Caleb, LUST FARM reminds us of an Old Testament tale like EAST OF EDEN.
The three on the farm are reminiscent of the trio in Jim Thompson’s CROPPER’S CABIN. Even though it is set in Michigan, the farmers behave more like sharecroppers in Whittington’s DESIRE IN THE DUST than like Yankees. This is Whittington country, not Steinbeck’s or Thompson’s.
I will be reading more books by Whittington…