Web of Murder – Harry Whittington (Gold Medal #740, 1958)
One of Harry Whittington’s better known novels and Gold Medal titles (reprinted by Black Lizard in 1993), “web” is fitting in the title as attorney Charley Brower digs himself into one giant whole of a mess as he attempts to plot the perfect murder of his wife, Cora.
See, Charley is in love with his secretary, Laura. He knew he should have fired the sexy, leggy and busty Laura before something bad happened, or good, and it does — he takes the girl to bed and the two fall in love but they cannot be together because of his wife.
He has been wanting a divorce from Cora for years but she won’t grant him one. She doesn’t mind if he cheats on her, she won’t give him up. She has plenty of money, inherited from a father who put Charley though law school, but she does not let him have any of it — he has to fend for himself by defending criminals. And now he is about to become a criminal himself.
A murderer who, it seems, is up for consideration by the Governor of Florida to become a Circuit Court Judge.
The writing is extra-terse, noir-ish and hardboiled, and Whittington packs into one chapter three normal chapters of action and information. It moves with the same speed as You’ll Die Next! and notably different from his Cornith titles.
We just know a monkey wrench or two is going to be tossed into his well-plotted plan, this wouldn’t be a crime novel unless that were so. The first thing we wonder is: does Laura really love him, or is she playing him and her own game?
Brower in many ways is a sociopath, the cool, calm way he devises his plan and then murders Cora — here he is, a lawyer, up for a judge’s appointment, a pillar of the community, when deep down he’s a stone-cold homicidal whack job.
But after he suffocates Cora dumps her body in Indiana, Laura’s beaten dead body shows up in Florida and the cops at first think she is Cora…
What a mess…
What a web!
Would it be a spoiler to state that he does pull off the perfect murder? That he gets off scrott-free from Cora’s homicide…but at what price? The price he pays for “freedom” seems to him that the elctric chair would’ve been a better option.
A good introduction to Harry Whittington’s genius storytelling if you’ve never read him before…
The Black Lizard edition, along with others that publisher reprinted, includes an essay from Whittington, “I Remember It Well,” chronicling his career as a pulp meister hacker — from his early days with Gold Medal and that success, to Hollywood, to his fall writing a book a month for William Hamling for much needed cash. His career was certainly quite up and down, and today he is hailed as the King of Paperbacks from 1950-1965.
Soon on this blog I will be reading more Whittington but focusing on his Cornith/Greenleaf sleaze novels as John Dexter, J.X. Williams and Curt Coleman, one from Novel Books, one from Bedtime, a couple from Beacon under pen names…