Friday, April 06, 2012

Orrie Hitt's two-fer

As I've said earlier, the momentum of old sleaze and sex paperbacks has arrived. There are numerous reprints and I think there will be even more of them, which is just great, if the books are as good as the ones in the Robert Silverberg double and in the Orrie Hitt double Stark House Press published last year.

Orrie Hitt was pretty much deemed to obscurity in the 1980's and 1990's, but there were some mentions of his name here and there, for example in Lee Server's book on old paperbacks. It seems his star is on the rise - has actually been awhile -, mainly due to the blogs dedicated to the pulp school of writing and vintage sleaze. Stark House did recently a great double volume of his work, with two long-lost titles The Cheaters and Dial "M" for Man. It's a great read and I recommend it highly.

The Cheaters (Midwood 1960) tells about a young man, pretty much down on his luck, taking a job as a bartender in a seedy bar. The guy falls in love with the gorgeous wife of the bar's fat and obnoxious owner, who wants the guy to take over the bar. Dial "M" for Man (Beacon 1962) is about a TV repair man running his own business in a small town. He also falls in love with the gorgeous wife of the town's big man who in his turn tries to run the TV man down in every way he can.

Both books, published originally as cheap and cheap-looking paperbacks, are about ordinary men in bad situations. They just end up in them, even though they try to shy away from bad stuff. It just happens. They fall in love and start to scheme killing a man, albeit rather reluctantly. This is classic noir stuff, exemplified by this quote from Dial "M" for Man: "Here I was, just a little guy with everything to lose - everything that I had not already lost, that is." You care for these guys, that's why these two little books (Dial "M" for Man is just over 100 pages) have stayed alive.

The other reason for their vitality is Hitt's narrative drive. Even though nothing much happens and the prose isn't very refined or stylish, Hitt really knows how to keep the story moving. You keep flipping the pages, though, as I said, nothing much happens. In this Hitt reminds me of Jason Starr, one of my favourite new noir writers, who also writes about ordinary people and in whose books nothing much happens. Especially in Dial "M" for Man Hitt really keeps the shit piling up on his protagonist.

The endings in both books are bad, though, like Hitt didn't really know how to keep up the dark pessimism of the earlier pages.


James Reasoner said...

At Beacon Books especially, it was hard to get a less than somewhat happy ending past the editors. That was Hitt's main market for a number of years, so I guess he got in the habit of ending his books like that. The endings are consistently the weakest part of his work, though.

Juri said...

Yes, it really shows that Hitt's not happy with the happy endings of his own novels.