Harry Whittington’s “Cora is a Nympho…” (Novel Books, 1963)

Prolific authors often have a re-occurring character name, along with a theme — for Orrie Hitt, it’s “Lucy” and for Harry Whittington, it’s “Cora.” Many Coras and Noras appear in Whittington’s work, under his name and others.

Whittington published this one under his name, as Cora is a Nympho…, and looking at the back cover copy (above), one wonders if the mob-tied boys at Camerarts knew who Whittington was. “We now take pride in presenting a  young unpublished author — Harry Whittington.”

In 1963, Whittington was 48 years old, not exactly a “young” writer, and had dozens and dozens of books under his belt, a run in the 1950s as a top suspense crime writer with Gold Medal and Ace, work in Hollywood films, riding the constant whirlwind of paperback and genre trends.  He penned westerns, nurse romances, tie-ins and mysteries.  Either the Camerarts guys did not know who Whittington was, or decided to market him as a new writer to an audience who wasn’t aware of his work — in the newsstands sleaze market, Whittngton had only written a few books, for the short-lived Bedtime and for Beacon and Newstand Library under pen names.

The original title of this book was To Find Cora.  Both Fawcett Gold Medal and Newstand Library rejected it — a bad blow for such a professional writer.  So said writer sells it to a secondary market, Novel Books, a Chicag0-based publisher of girlie magazines and men’s fiction with some questionable business ties.  He rewrote the story for William Hamling as a 1966 Sundown Reader by J.X. Williams, Flesh Snare. In 2009, Stark House reprinted it as To Find Cora in a three-book omnibus.

The 40,000 word novel is narrated by Joe Byars, an everyday-man whose wife, Cora, has disappeared on him.  Did she leave with another man?  Possibly, because she was not faithful.  Did she leave because she was bored in the marriage?  Possibly.  Did she meet foul play? Who knows.

Joe is on a mission to find Cora, to find out why she left, to bring her back home.  He hounds the cops for new information, certain they have given up and not following leads.  He calls around to police agencies in other towns and cities. He leans of a lead that someone thought they saw a woman who looked like Cora, acting as a man’s wife on a remote farmland.  Joe heads out to investigate.

At the farmhouse, isolated and surrounded by thousands of empty acres, Joe discovers that the woman, Vivian, does in fact resemble Cora from afar, but she is not Cora.  Her husband, Hall, is suspicious of the visit and then pulls out a Luger, stops Joe from leaving, shooting out the tires to Joe’s car.

Hal is a paranoid. He believes Joe is here about the missing money — two hundred grand Hall has stashed away, embezzled from a company he worked for as an accountant.  Vi  — as she is called — also worked at the company, got wind of the crime, but Hall convinced her he’d give her half if she kept her mouth shut and left with him.

For a year now, the two have been hiding out, the money tucked away…Vi has been a prisoner at the farm, waiting for the day she can have her portion of the cash.

Now Joe is also a prisoner, while Hall decides if he should kill Joe or not.

But Vi has other plans — she wants all the money, and she just needs someone to kill Hall.  Sound familiar?  We have seen this plot in many noir and sleaze books.  In fact, Vi has been working on an old farmer to do this, who comes by when Hall is away; when the farmer, Clint, comes around and sees Joe, he thinks Hoe wants to steal Vi from him.  The two get in a fight and Joe has to kill Farmer Clint.

Joe and Vi try to leave in his car with blown out tires but they don’t get far. Hall chases them down.

Stephen King borrowed such a plot for Misery — a fellow imprisoned by a crazy person in a remote area.  We’ve seen it in the Clint Eastwood film, The Beguiled.

The book, like many Whittingtons, is fast-paced with sort terse chapters and the occassional plot twist.  Set mainly in the farmhouse, this could easily be adpated into a play with a Genet-esque or Sartre-like French existentialist attitude, such as when Vi says to Joe:

“I pity everyone that has never been hell, and got away” (p. 93)

No wonder the French loved writers like Whittington and Thompson and Goodis!

And like many noirs, the bottom line for the characters is money.  The greenback is their jesus, their salvation, their raison d’etre.  We have seen it in the best of Gil Brewer and James Cain, from Day Keene to Harry Whittington…

“No matter what happens to me now, Joe, I’ve made it. I’ve got the money, that beautiful green money.  No matter whatever happened to me in my life, no matter what ugly things — the men that pawed me, the lies I had to tell just to exist, the ugly things they did to me — they never happened, because I’ve got all that money, and I can buy it all back, and it never happened, none of the ugliness ever happened, I can buy it back…” (p.93)

But we also know money cannot buy these things, really; for money is just ink on paper, a symbol for gold that does not exist in some phantom treasury.

“I’ve been miserable, Joe.  All my life ‘ve been unhappy because I was too lovely to be poor.  If you’re ging to be ppor, don’t be what people call pretty, Joe, because you’re in trouble.  Men do things for you, Joe, because you’re pretty, and if you want anything, you have to trade pn how pretty you are, and when men will do anything for you because you’re pretty, and soon you feel trapped, and dirty, and all you can think about is when you are free, and no matter what you’ve done before, you’d do more, you’d do anything to be free of what they — what they did to you.” (p. 94)

Like most Whittington noirs, the ending is weird, but satisfactory.

I give this one a 9.

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