A Girl Called Honey – Sheldon Lord & Alan Marshall/aka Lawrence Block & Donald Westlake (Midwood #41, 1960)
We know that Donald Westlake sometimes contributed to an Andrew Shaw novel or three, and that the Sheldon Lord moniker was shared. Here, we have Block and Westlake having their pen names collaborate — adding in a cute dedication:
this is for
DON WESTLAKE AND LARRY BLOCK
who introduced us
This is like K.M. O’Donnell once claiming that his pen name was Barry N. Malzberg!
Another little tidbit — a character in the story signs into a hotel under an alias: Andrew Shaw. “Call me Andy,” he says.
There aren’t any of the other clues such as references to Clifton College of The Sound of Distant Drums. It does start off in Ohio, where the fictional Clifton College, and major events happen in Albany, NY, where Block hails from.
This is an early work for both these writerly friends and co-workers in the Scott Meredith Agency fee department,and it shows. But it’s not a bad novel; it’s slow to start, but you get sucked in by the characters, and things get gradually bleak and the damn thing sticks in your head all night long…
Honour Mercy Bane–nickname “Honey”–is a small town girl from Kentucky who makes her way to Newport, Ohio, a town outside Cincinnati.
And Newport, fair city that it is, has everything that Cincinnati lacks. Cathouses by the dozens. Gambling dens by the score, a pusher on every corner, and bootleg whiskey sold over the counter in every drugstore. (p. 10)
She was kicked out of her home by her religious parents, Abhraham and Prudence Bane, when they come one unexpected one day and ind her in the act of coitus with her lover, who happens to be one of her teachers at the high school. “Go to Newport and be a bad girl,” they tell her, disowning her.
So she does.
Honey goes there to work in a brothel. How else can a simple girl like her make money, but with her body? She’s timid at first but she gets the hang of being a whore and the men like her red hair and pale skin (she is obviously not the dame on the cover, fine Paul Rader art that it is).
She’s also the cliched hooker with a heart of gold, when it comes to 18-year-old Richie Parsons, AWOL from the Air Force and on the run. He winds up at the cathouse and in Honey’s room and bed; he’s a lost soul that she takes under her caring wing.
First, they live in a hotel there in Newport, then head to New York City since the military is getting close to finding him. In New York, they stay at a sleazeball hotel; he stays indoors while she walks the streets and makes money for them. Honey likes that Richie is like a little boy and needs her; whenever he shows independence and acts “like a man” she fears he will leave her, not needing her nurturing anymore. They have sex, but they seem more like brother and sister.
Then she meets a lesbian hooker, Marie, who gets her into the upscale call girl service; instead of making $10-20 a day from $5 tricks, she starts making $200-300 week from men with money and status, like Joshua Crawford, a middle-aged lawyer who falls in love with her after two months; Honey feels the same as she refuses to take his money for sex.
Crawford wants to set Honey up in an apartment as his mistress, but while Richie is okay with sharing her with other men, Crawford isn’t. He wants Richie out of the picture so makes Richie a deal he cannot refuse: a plane ticket to Miami and $500 or a call to the Air Force and getting tossed in the brig as a deserter.
But Richie pulls a double-cross and Crawford gets a gun and decides to kill the kid so he can have Honey all to himself. The novel makes a turn into the realm of crime fiction, showing how a single selfish act is the catalyst for everyone’s downfall: Richie is murdered, Crawford commits suicide over it, and Honey gets beaten up after a four-guy gang bang because she needs the money to get back home, and later she becomes a heroin addict because she needs to dull the pain and “look at heaven from her skull” (p. 152).
Heroin seems to play a significant role in a lot of early Blocks — Sin Passion, Mona, Pads Are for Passion.
An engaging little story but not seamless as I can tell where one writer leaves off and another takes up the narrative — generally Block and Westlake alternated chapters but there are some scene changes where they alternate. Subtle stylization giveaways appear — Block’s use of dialogue differs from Westlake’s, and Westlake uses “said Richie” whereas Block uses “Richie said” which we see in their separate work, too. It’s subtle, and doesn’t upset the flow much (Westlake also uses longer expository chapters whereas Block tends toward terse, often one sentence paragraphs). It doesn’t feel like a 50/50 collab, more 60/40.
A Girl Called Honey seems to be a rare pricey book — have always seen it going for $60-90 online; I found a water-damaged copy on eBay for less than ten bucks…there’s some talk floating about that Subterranean Press plans to issue an omnibus edition of Block and Westlake’s collaborations. The only other one I can think of is So Willing…and then there is also No Longer a Virgin, a John Dexter, which I will look at next…
All in all, I’d give this one a B plus.