Brute in Brass by Harry Whittington (Gold Medal, 1956) aka Forgive Me, Killer (Black Lizard, 1985)
Mike Ballard is a bad cop — not as bad as Lou Ford in The Killer Inside Me, but but he’s a bad lieutenant on the take and I.A and the D.A. are investigating him and what he has done while working vice. He basically gets paid to look the other way when it comes to the local mob’s involvement in prostitution and gambling.
Harry Whittington’s gritty Gold Medal, written in the early years of his career, before Hollywood and the changing book market slammed him down, is hardboiled, swift, and 40,000 words — the short novel was the form he worked best in.
The novel opens with Ballard going to see a guy in prison, Earl Walker, doing life for the murder of a hooker, Ruby. But h swears he’s innocent and was framed, and since Ballard was the only cop on the case who didn’t beat him, and treated him like a human, he is asking Ballard to look into the case and clear his name.
Ballard refuses — the hero gets his call of action and turns it down at first, classic structure. But Ballard is no hero. However, when Walker’s wife comes to see him and begs for help, he gives in. he’s facing going to prison himself, an for all his wrong-doing, he believes there could be redemption if he freed an innocent man.
He starts to wonder about the case when he discovers that a bartender may have lied during testimony. The bartender claims Walker was never in the bar the night of the murder, at the time of the crime, yet Walker says he was. After the trial, the bartender disappeared. May mean something, may not…but it leads to a dirty road of petty crime, murder and darkness.
A damn fun rad if you like your mysteries tough and brutal and don’t mind men slapping women around, for Ballard is indeed an abuser: he has one woman kept in an apartment, the ex-wife of a man he put away, whom he treats like shit, and screws around with Walker’s wife, and any other woman, hooker, grifter, or citizen, who crosses his path.
Along the way, Ballard goes from cop to criminal, faced with murder and flight from justice. But he does his good deed for Earl, even though he falls in love with the man’s wife.
Brute in Brass was one of the first Whittingtons Black Lizard reprinted in the mid-80s, re-titled as Forgive Me, Killer.
In fact, these reprints were Whittingtonj’s re-discovery; in the 80s h was out of print and known only to die hard pulp fans. The introduction Whittington wrote is a great history of the crime pulp era, the paperback industry and its changes, the Hollywood game, and a brief mention of 38 softcore books he wrote in the mid-60s which lead some pulp scholars to search for them, finding out that Whittington wrote under three pen names for Earl Kemp and William Hamling, a few which we have discussed on this blog: Sharon Sharon, Sin Psycho, and The Sin Fishers.
Oh, and the strange southern gothic nurse romance, The Abortionists.
It’s too bad Black Lizard didn’t do for Whittington what it did for Jim Thompson, with movies being made…and it seems that Random House decided not to keep Whittington in print.
No one said the folk running Vintage Books are all that savvy or bright.