You’ll Die Next! by Harry Whittington (Ace Double, 1954)
He also wrote softcores for Bedstand under his name and as Shepard, and nurse novels under a female pen name and even his own name, like The Young Nurses. Westerns, movie tie-ins, Man from UNCLE books, Whittington wrote anything for a buck — a true hack’s hack.
I had heard about how wild and good You’ll Die Next! is, so I pciked up the old Ace Double and read it in an hour — it’s that short (c. 35K words) and fast-paced. At the time I’m sure this was crazy crime fiction; today’s it’s ho-hum and has some major plot problems, but it is a fun read if you like that “common man with his back against the wall, let’s see how he squirms out of it” genre.
Henry Wilson is an average guy, not that good-looking, semi-tough buy not hardboiled, with a sixty-five-dollar-a-week job at the V.A., and married to bombshell Lila, a former club singer and gangster moll (or so it seems). He has no idea why she loves him or wanted to marry him — cowlick and big ears and all, but he’s grateful. They have a common suburban home and a quiet life, the marriage six months old.
One idyll morning a thug knocks on the door and beats him up and sas more is coming. He gets a threatening letter from someone named Sammy. He goes to work and finds out the VA thinks he served prison time in California and ask for his resignation or else face fraud charges for lying on his job application.
He thinks this may have to do with his wife’s previous life among the criminal types, that someone is jealous of their marriage. He comes home and his wife is gone. He knows someone was there, though. He leaves. His wife is assaulted and in the hospital and the cops think he beat her up. The cops chase him down and one cop accidentally shoots another and they blame it on him.
Henry is a man on the run, trying to clear his name, with a blind fellow, whose eyes were burned out by acid, wanting revenge for something he did not do: steal money from the syndicate and take off with the woman the blind man, Sammy, was in love with.
He’s being set-up all right, in an almost implausible manner, but it’s still fun to read. The ending is predictable as hell.
Next Whittingon to read: Desire in the Dust, Fires That Destroy, and Blood Lust Orgy.