Friday, October 22, 2010
Forgotten Books: The Virgin Kills by Raoul Whitfield
Sorry, this book is not about what you think. There's no serial killer running around executing virgins. And there is no blood-crazed virgin on a murder spree.
Virgin, you see, is the name of a millionaire’s yacht, and that’s where most of the action (and some of the killing) takes place. Still, it's a great read, with a nice mix of character types: Among the millionaire gambler’s guests are a movie starlet, a novelist, a famous flier, a sports writer and assorted society folk. Of most interest to the reader are the narrator - a newspaper reporter - and a thug he brings along to act as the gambler’s bodyguard.
The whole wacky lot of them have gathered aboard Virgin to cruise up the Hudson for an up close and personal view of the Poughkeepsie Regatta. Trouble is, the gambler is convinced someone is out to kill him, and the idea seems to be catching, as others get bumped off along the way.
The cast gives Whitfield a chance to display his wit, playing the hardboiled thug off against the Hollywood and society folks, and the story is entertaining from start to finish. As you might expect, there are a number of jokes about the ship’s name, but they’re all nicely handled.
The Virgin Kills (1932) is a rarity among Whitfield’s books, because unlike Green Ice, Death in a Bowl and two other novels published under his Temple Field pen name, it did not make its first appearance as a serial in Black Mask. Near as I can tell, this one was written directly for hardcover. One thing it does have in common with Whitfield’s other books is that several characters often use the word “humans” when most folks would simply say “people.” I can’t recall another writer doing this.
The novel has been reprinted three times. First by Grosset & Dunlap (I know this because my first edition has a G&D dust jacket), then in 1988 by No Exit Press and in 2004 by Blackmask.com. So while The Virgin Kills may be a forgotten book, it’s not hard to come by.
Links to more reviews in this week's Forgotten Books Regatta will be found at pattinase.