BAYOU SINNERS by J.X. Williams aka Earl Kemp (Idle Hour Book 401, 1964)
J.X. Williams was the original pen name for John Jakes, and then later used as a house name by many, from Harry Whittington to George Smith and David Case.
And editor Earl Kemp…Kemp, when not running the Cornith/Greenleaf imprints, wrote a few titles himself, such as this one (with its nifty Robert Bonfils cover) and Seance Sinners (which we have yet to find).
Editors as writers is always tricky — are they as good behind the typewriter as they are with the red pen? There are some former editors who have proven themselves good writers: E.L. Doctorow (used to edit Dial Press), Gordon Lish (Knopf). Harlan Ellison (Nightstand/Rogue/Regency) come to mind…
Kemp is cocky about his role in paperback sleaze and First Amendment cases.
So is this just as good as any Silverberg, Block, Westlake, Knoles, James? No, but it is a good read with a swampy, hot atmosphere. The back cover copy:
SWAMP OF SHAME! Harold Weyman, an ambitious young executive, is assigned an almost impossible task . . . he has to locate Reginald Carminada, the fabulously wealthy sugar heir who has been missing for some time. His new assignment tears him from the arms of Margo, his fiery redhead who likes to sunbathe in the nude [obviously the cover’s inspiration] . . . and tosses him headlong into a world of wild improbability. First he encounters the sinister Hache, the serpentine wanton who cavorts through degradation with Harold in the seclusion of a motel room. Then the lovely young blonde, Rosiemae . . . whose innocence is rapidly sacrificed before the altar of shame, while her pets, the beasts of the swamp, shout their guttural encouragements. Finally, Harold finds himself caught by the swirl of the most ribald voodoo ritual that ever degraded the bayou as the fires of hell flicker toward the gloating moon and the tortures pierce the night like the cruel snap of a whip or the hiss of a devil snake . . .
Harold’s journey from New Orleans to the swampy southern marshlands, where people have old ‘gators for pets, his search for the missing millionaire, is an obvious nod toward Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a decade before Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (and Robert Parker did one with his Spencer novels). His journey down the river with Roisemae reflects Marlowe’s journey through the heart of the African Congo, full of strange encounters along the way, like Old Cuddles, a grandpappy of alligators, that Rosiemae has known all her life — she knows Old Cuddles won’t eat her, he only likes to eat dogs.
Kemp, being a southern boy, writes his southern characters with flair and authenticity.
There are the sounds of distant drums (a funny nod to Block/Shaw) that bring him to a voodoo ritual where he finds the man. “Reginald Carminada, I prsume?” says Harold, a nod to Kipling.
Sex? There’s plenty of sex in Harold’s adventure into the Swamp of Shame, the Sin Swamp, among the Swamp Lusters, with all the cautious language we expect from a Cornith — in fact, there is so much use of “Now! Now” and “faster! faster!” that it gives credence that Kemp added these things into the manuscripts of other writers, because they all seem to cookie-cutter. Silbverberg has said something about Kemp writing in extra stuff to the books.
A fun read. If you come across a copy, get it.
An autograph from Kemp: