|Vintage Pulp||Sep 27 2018|
I know I shouldn't laugh, but I never realized you even had a heart.
In the 1952 crime thriller One for Hell trouble comes to the fictional West Texas oil town of Breton and it arrives by train. Author Jada M. Davis tells the readers this with strong style, as various characters around town hear a sound portentous of approaching calamity but which they don't yet recognize as such. Davis writes in chapter three, “Far off, faint but clear, a train whistle mourned the passing of the night. Whoo-ooo-ooo, whoo-ooo-ooo, whooooo...”
Chapter four starts this way: The mayor heard the whistle, the whoo-ooo-oooing, shrilly whoo-ooo-oooing whistle, and sat up in bed.
Chapter five opens with this: Chief Bronson heard the whoo-ooo-oooing, whoo-ooo-OOO, whoo-ooo-oooing of the train and was glad morning was on its way.
And chapter six opens: The train whistle sounded fuzzy and dreamy to Laura Green, the whoo-ooo-ooo, whoo-ooo-ooo, whooooo-oooing-oooing lonesomely lonely and by itself.
Yes, trouble has arrived in the form of a man so bad he'll turn even the most corrupt town west of the Mississippi River upside down. He's a man who has no limits to how much he'll lie, what he'll steal, and who he'll hurt. He's a thief and a grifter. When he stumbles into a position of authority there's no thought of playing it straight. The trust he's given just means more opportunity to do wrong.
We suspect Jada Davis identified a bit with his creation, because like the author, his lead character has a name that sounds like it belongs to a woman—Willa. And he has an attitude about it, as a couple of characters find out when they comment on the fact. Willa robs stores, frames the innocent, beats women, and worse. He's racist, sexist, and destructive in ways most ’50s crime novel bad guys can't even touch. Nature or nurture? It's impossible to know.
All in all One for Hell is an effectively dark piece of entertainment, but not for the faint of heart in these days when the difference between depicting evil and endorsing it seems ever harder for people to discern. This edition came from Red Seal and it has cover art by John Floherty, Jr., who was active throughout the 1940s and 1950s. We featured another one of his covers not long ago, and you can see that here. We'll see if we can dig up more down the line.