To me, Day Keene was always just a name I’d see (A LOT) between Hammett and Latimer on second-hand paperback shelves. No more. Thanks to a new triple-threat reissue from Stark House Press, Day Keene is now a name I respect, and will be on the lookout for.
In the book’s introduction, David Laurence Wilson links Keene to Gil Brewer and Harry Whittington. Though Keene was older, the three men were friends and drinking buddies, and explored similar dark themes in their novels. I have a lot of books by those guys, along with other hardboiled non-detective writers like Jim Thompson and David Goodis, but just never got around to reading them. Now, thanks to Keene, I’ll be digging into them too.
These three novels comprise a great sampler of Keene’s talents. The first novel is in third person, almost exclusively from one point of view. The second is narrated in first person by the (perceived) bad guy. And the last is in third person, with POV alternating between several characters. The narration is smooth and tight, the dialogue sharp, and the suspense always mounting. These are stories that charge you up and keep you buzzing all the way to the end.
Hunt the Killer appeared in 1951 as both a Phantom Books digest (shown) and an Avon paperback. In this one we meet Charlie White, a fishing boat captain just being released from the joint after serving time (justly) for smuggling. Charlie’s conflicted. He wants to reconnect with wife if she’ll have him. But he has a yen for his mistress, a hot little number from Habana, and craves revenge on the guy he blames for his stretch in prison - a mysterious gent known only as Senor Peso. And he just can’t get a break. The hot little number is brutally murdered, and before he can clear his wits Charlie is being hunted by every lawman in the South, including his former best friend.
Much as I enjoyed the first two novels, may favorite was Too Hot to Hold, a Gold Medal entry from 1959. What’s “too hot to hold” is a package containing $200,000 of mob money. A nineteen year old wanna-be actress lost it, an unhappily-married professional translator finds it, and Chicago’s top mobster - a holdover from the Capone era - will stop at nothing to get it back.
Near as I can tell, this is Stark House’s second Keene collection. Now I’ll have to track down the first, containing Framed in Guilt, My Flesh is Sweet and an intro by Ed Gorman.
Cullen Gallagher reviewed Dead Dolls Don’t Talk/Hunt the Killer/Too Hot to Hold a couple three weeks ago over at Pulp Serenade. You’ll find his take on it HERE.
For info on this and other fine books, visit the STARK HOUSE PRESS site.
And watch for a complete Day Keene pulp story, coming soon to the Almanack!
Forgotten Books is a PATTI ABBOTT production.