The Promoter by Orrie Hitt (Beacon Books #142)
I may have become a fan after reading this 1957 novel by Orrie Hitt. The (great!) cover art and cover copy is misleading — it seems to indcate that it’s about a sleaze merchant in female flesh but it’s not, really, or: the guy on the cover is not the narrator.
The narrator is Bill Morgan, a freelance magazine writer who specializes in pieces for car magazines. He heads into a small New Jersey town to interview a church minister, Dr. Call, who has boys re-build cars, believing it keeps them off the streets and getting into gangs and crime. There he meets the minister’s daughter, Judith Call, who is on her way out of the small town with her dreams for New York City and the high life. She uses the distraction of the writer being there to slip out and run away.
Dr. Call and the church elders wish to hire Morgan for an information job — they have heard about sleaze tabloids, the selling of nudie pictures, an underworld of sex and sin in New York, but in their isolated lives, they have no idea if it is hyperbole or true. They want to know the truth, what kind of people are behind such sleaze, in order to keep their young ones away from it all. Morgan takes the job — and oh, the minister tells Morgan that his daughter ran away to NYC and would he find her?
It has a Big Sleep set-up feel — the wayward teenage daughter, the naive older man with money, the taking of nude photos. It is obvious Hitt was influenced by Chandler, as many were at the time. Hitt’s style is smooth, but his sentences can get convoluted, not unlike Chandler.
But it has a different angle — Morgan becomes a detective, but he’s not a private eye, he’s just a writer. But he’s hardboiled and tough enough, and knows his way around the streets. He does’t know about the syndicate sex world, mobbed up, bogus model agencies that lure young women into being prostitutes and sex toys, drugged up and chewed up by a strange cabal of rich people — remidned me of the movie Eyes Wide Shut in some ways.
In the 1950s, still photos of women naked or partially undressed was a curious business — it’s what Betty Paige fell into. Hitt seems to have tackled the subject in a few other books: As Bad as They Come and Sin Doll, probably more, he seems to write a handful of books on the same subjects, like peeping toms.
Morgan sleeps with half a dozen women in the process — like all hardboiled heroes, the dames and dolls just throw themselves at then, even if they are all slutty models and drugged up babes. Morgan has an odd sense of justice, wanting to take the sex rackett down — his motive: the ghost of love. The woman he was to marry died in a skiing accident a few years ago and he is emotionally messed up still. The minsiter’s daughter happens to look like a younger version of that woman, and she seems to have vanished without a trace after meeting some man about a secretarial job.
He finds her in a mansion one night at a syndicate sex party — many young women, drugged up on pills, are there to be used by a bunch of men, photographed…and Judith Call is there, drugged out of brain, taking one man after the other.
He saves her. Bullets fly. In the last sentence, we are told of an unlikely marriage.