A Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson (Lion Books, 1954)
Yawdry and sordid from the get go — door to door salesman Frank “Dolly” Dillon knocks on a door not only looking to sell some wares, but find a fellow who owes the company bucks. He encounters a 70 year old lady who is willing to let her young niece have sex with him in exchange for a set of silverware. The set-up is the cover art on te original Lion Books edition, only the girl, Mona (was Lawrence Block influenced here, with his many Mona characters? Harry Whittington too?) does not have long flowing curly blond hair like the babe depicted, but messily chopped off hair.
When Frank, our narrator, takes Mona in a backroom, she immediately gets naked and he notices a bleeding welt on her. Mona is very submissive and he knows her old aunt has been whoring the girl out to salesmen and other men in exchange for material goods.
Frank is disgusted and he can’t even get himself to fuck her. He promises Mona that he will come back and save her from this life of sexual slavery. He has no idea how. He first has to deal with his boss, Staples, who is breathing down his neck, and his alcoholic wife, a former cigarette girl in a club he used to frequent in Chicago. Her name is Joyce. They get in a fight and she runs off; he goes to work the next day and Staples has discovered that he’s done some creative bookeeping and taken the company for more than $300. He’s arrested, and all he can think about is: what will poor Mona think when he doesn’t show uo?
Then get gets sprung by Mona, she pays his debt and he’s released. She has money — or, her aunt’s money, she stole it from a stash of money her aunt has. How much? One hundred grand.
Frank must have the money and the girl, and the only way to get both is to murder the old lady and frame someone for it — frame a dead beat immigrant handyman who owed Frank money on a a suit he didn’t make full payments on.
Of course, as in all noir tales like this, the murder doesn’t go exactly as planned, and things pop up, people get suspicious, like his wife who has seen the money and his boss who knows something is fishy…
Frank acts like he is smooth and knows what he is doing, but he’s actually a dupe, a fool, and a heel — or a fuck-up, and his fuck-ups lead to his evntualy downfall.
Any Jim Thompson is worth reading, and while this one has a few plot and logic flaws, who cares, it didn’t matter in 1954 and does not matter in 2011…A Hell of a Woman is a hell a read. (The same year, Thompson and Lion Books published A Swell-Looking Babe, which we will get to soon.)
Black Lizard revived the book in the 1980s with a nifty cover.
Then this one…
The Vintage trade ppbk edition isn’t that nifty…trying too hard to be b%w noir, another corny generic cover by uninspired art directors.