Sinners in White by Mike Avallone (Midwood, 1962)
I’ve had several Mike Avallone Midwoods here for a while, this one and Stag Stripper, and wondered what kind of writer he was. Avallone was mostly known as a mystery/crime author with his Ed Noon P.I. series andhis active involvement with the Mystery Writers of America, plus he seemed to be fairly full of himself, based on his bio entry at Thrilling Detective, viz:
…he was quick. He once completed a novel in a day and a half. One story goes that he wrote a 1,500-word short story in 20 minutes, while dining in a New York restaurant. One year, he supposedly churned out 27 books. Avallone was a tireless committee volunteer for the MWA, serving on the Board of Directors, as well as editing the newsletter. He was also the chairman of its awards, television and motion picture committees. And he was always quick with a quip. Rumours have it was the Avallone who coined the “Father, Son, & Holy Ghost” line to describe Hammett, Chandler, and Macdonald, way back in the early sixties.
He was also legendary for being quick to take offense and quick to lash out, and for his high opinion of himself. An original; a seemingly tireless letter-writer and self-promoter, his own biggest fan, a romping stomping ornery cuss, often charging off in two or three directions at once, at times bitter and spiteful, prickly, opinionated, pounding out white hot attacks on anyone he felt had failed to acknowledge their debt and pay their proper respects to him (never mind that some of these writers never READ him) or in some other way slighted him. He was especially venomous towards more successful writers, notably, supposedly, Stephen King who, Avallone exclaimed at every chance, based every thing he ever wrote on an a Robert Bloch novel.
“A few times,” Avallone’s son, David, admits, “he substituted himself for Bloch, but this was mostly to drive King fans into rage. Most of his “ornery cussedness” had a pretty simple intention; to piss people off and get attention. Once when I was a child and we were in London, he calmly threw into an interview that he thought Arthur Conan-Doyle must have known exactly who Jack the Ripper was… otherwise he wouldn’t have avoided writing about it. This managed to get him into all the other papers, with headlines like “Yank Writer Says Sherlock Was Jack The Ripper”… My point being (one that seems to be lost on a lot of folks) I don’t think Dad particularly believed King plagarized him any more than he believed Conan-Doyle knew the Ripper. He just got a huge kick out of the reaction it caused when he said it.”
Certainly, Avallone had a high opinion of his own work. After his death, the quips and stories rolled out. “He never wrote a book he didn’t like.” “He rewrote one book three times, and sold each version, once as a mystery, once as a romance and once as a horror story, to three different publishers.” “In making a list of the ten best mysteries of all time, he included one of his own books.” “Reading him may have sometimes been a dubious pleasure, and dealing with him an onerous task, but I was glad I knew him. He was his own best character.”
I enjoyed his essay in Paperback Parade #33, talking about the books he did for Midwood and Beacon in the early 60s. He had lost his editor at Gold Medal, and new editor Knox Burger (later a powerful agent, and famed for having given his old army buddy Kurt Vonnegut his first publishing breaks, buying stories for Collier Magazine and buying Vonnegut’s first two novels as paperback originals in SF with Dell) didn’t want to work with him, so Avallone started to seek new publishers for his work; his agent suggested Midwood. I liked how Avallone was not afraid to put his real name on his “sex” books, wasproud of them, and even dedicated some to family members — Sinners in White is dedicated to his sister, “who would have been a fine nurse.”
Avallone (“Avo” to friends) claims he wrote his books in a week, some in 3 days. Seems he’d take on any job, writing many tie-ins for Man from UNCLE, Mannis, Hawaii-5-0 and The Partridge Family (!).
Since I was on a vintage nurse novel kick this week, I decided to sit down with Sinners in White, not knowing what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised — this little novel is no work of art, but it was smoothly written, fast-paced, and entertaining.
It opens absurdly, with three nurses being interviewed for jobs by one Dr. Stryker, who presents himself completely naked when they walk in. Only one nurse, Kelly Connors, starts to remove he clothes, assuming the interview involves sex. The other two have different reactions.
Stryker is eccentric and wants to see their reactions — he’s kooky in a Dr. House sort of way. All three nurses pass the test and are hired. Avallone gives each a chapter about their past, and what led them to the nurse field:
Kelly Connor — prety much a slut nad failed actress, an incident of delivering a baby and helping an accident victim leads her to nusring…
Fran Turner — girl from NY tenement slums, wanting to better herself, get away from her prostitute/drunk mother and the thug who wants to marry her…
Kate Orley — Innocent little rich girl and psychology major, she gets car jacked and raped repeatly for 18 hours by a man. She was a virgin. She does not blame the man, thinking he just needed help…so she decides to go into nursing to help people and deny her debutante life…
From there it gets soap opera-ish with all the dirty little gioings-ons within the hispital staff — from the one womanier doctor who has to bed every nurse to a love affair between Nurse Turner and Dr. Stryker, to Striker’s invalid wife hiring a private eye to pregnancies and car crashes and emegercy room surger to the head nurse’s gabling problems…
Not bad, not bad, a B-. I will definitely read more by Avallone.