Saturday, December 1, 2012

Honey in His Mouth (Lester Dent, 1956)

This one is about greed. There is this strange motley crew band who try to steal money from a certain South American dictator called El Presidente. They are his close associates - a brother, a mistress, his personnel doctor and a guy who deals with his finances. They somehow (pretty unbelievably btw) manage to find his identical double - our hero Walter Harsh - and persuade/force him (much more convincingly) to impersonate this asshole Presidente. Walter himself is small-time con artist pulling tricks with his girlfriend Vera who is yet another grifter herself. So we have seven shady characters and big pot of gold worth 65 million dollars. Let the game begin...

Story is good and for the most part quite consistent and more or less believable. The best thing about it is that it doesn't turn into some predictable action thriller taking place in South America. Pretty much everything happens in secluded house near Miami where Walter is kept. This confined setting gives a novel cool claustrophobic feeling which functions perfectly as a background for all the scheming, plotting and double crossings. Walters arm is broken so him being a patient was a bit reminiscent of David Young in Night Walker.

It's story driven and it works great for the first two parts. Very fast paced (starts with a car chase!) and plot keeps tightening but then in the last part just completely looses its steam and more or less falls apart. Very disappointing! We get a pretty pathetic surprise twist and a shootout in which most of our protagonists simply just die. Not to mention some pretty obvious logical flaws, like a man not realizing he had killed his dead ringer look-alike!? Seems like Mr. Dent complicated storyline too much and just gave up unwrapping it in a reasonable and logical way. Fuck it, let them just kill each other!

It's not that bad to be honest and anti-climax certainly is not its the biggest flaw. What I resented most is a poor  characterization of  "supporting" protagonists. They are such a colorful bunch and they would deserve better. First one to bitch about is Vera, greedy and not very smart but still (or maybe because of this) very likeable girlfriend of Walters. Wasn't even sure why she was in the book as she was totally neglected and used just for emphasizing what an asshole our hero was. Mr. Brother gets few more lines but still not nearly enough. Just think of all the possibilities that paranoid (mentaly handicapped) dictator's brother castrated by him offers!

So most of the time is spent with Walter and inside of his head. Here Dent did a great job because the guy really is totally despicable, greedy, cowardly, dumb (half literate) sociopath. He's 100% different than what would be expected from a main hero. So instead of witty, smart, tough etc we are left with this fuckhead. Unconventional and somehow brave author's decision (reminded me a bit of The Peddler), it makes everything a bit more unusual and unpredictable.



Walter Harsh

Begins in Missouri then moves to Miami for the most part.

Body count
7 (including guy waiting on the death row)

Vera Sue Crosby - sexy, naive and with a soft spot for a bottle of Benedictine:
"She's Harsh's sillero." Brother's lips curled with contempt."A nothing".  

 Also sexy, and mysterious Miss Muirz:
"She was a sharp one, Harsh thought, and a fast one when chips began to fall."

Yes, one. Nothing spectacular though - it happens when he tries to escape from the hospital but is to weak to do so: 
"He stood and took two steps and went down on the floor with a crash that shook the building and put out his lights."
Must be some kind of idiom, there's certainly no honey involved in this novel. It probably has something to do with 50k dollars locked in the safe and Walter's obsession with it. One night he even sleeps with a key to the safe in his mouth!

By Ron Lesser and really, really good and sexy! One of the Hard Case Crime's best and statement like that truly means something. It's not very accurate though as there's no scene with a dead mean lying and woman smoking besides him. But still I would like to think she's Miss Muirz, she looks too classy to be Vera Sue.

Cool lines:  
"Mr. Harsh, the only way I will deal with you is to buy you. I do not care to work with you on any other basis. I buy you or nothing. You are a cheap man, so buying you will not be expensive. Get it straight - I buy you, or I have nothing to do with you."

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