If it helps to persuade you, when you're an old woman you'll look back on even your worst one night stands with nostalgia.
Vintage thrillers and films often used Mexico as a setting, and we very much enjoy when that happens, due to our own numerous trips to the country and the many fond memories they produced. Wade Miller's 1950 novel Devil May Care takes readers to Mexico and does a better job of it than most books we've read. The trip happens when soldier of fortune Biggo Venn is sent to Ensenada on a mission that promises to profit him $10,000. Unfortunately, Biggo's contact turns up murdered, and out of caution he decides the smartest move is to wait for the unknown killer or killers to reveal themselves. He lays low and plays the role of gringo tourist. While doing so he meets up with a hard luck American named Jinny and a beautiful local named Pabla, both of whom are romantic interests, though in Jinny's case it's a love-hate dynamic.
Plenty happens with Jinny and Pabla, but Biggo's most portentous encounter is with fellow soldier of fortune Lew Hardesty, who's not only a rival suitor for both women, but keeps trying to horn in on Biggo's caper. The two eventually get into a vicious fight that settles nothing except that Biggo, who's ten years older, is losing his edge (though he dislocates Hardesty's jaw before the man pushes it back into place and comes at Biggo like a whirlwind). It's a good scene in a fun book. In fact, we think Devil May Care is Wade Miller (a pseudonym for authors Bob Wade and Bill Miller) at his/their best. The story is well paced, exciting, sometimes sad, and often funny. The authors use the rough-edged mercenaries-at-large premise brilliantly, as in this exchange between Biggo and Hardesty:
Biggo growled, “I thought you were in Bolivia.” Just because he had met one of his own kind made the outlook no brighter. Hardesty was a comrade but something less than a friend. He had a knack for showing up where he wasn't wanted.
“I was. Now I'm here.”
“Have you ever spent a summer in Bolivia? Very hot.”
Biggo understood the old pattern. Hardesty had been on the wrong side, whichever side happened to be losing that year. “Yes, Lew, I was thinking about you only the other night.”
“I love you too.”
“I know that. I remember the time you let me go out after that tiger in the Malay with a jimmied gun.”
Hardesty laughed. “That was a fine joke. Those man-killers are always old tigers, anyway. You've got more teeth than he had. Was that any worse than shipping me that opium in Transjordan? I sat in that mud jail for two months until one of your shells knocked out a wall.”
Biggo laughed in turn. “That was the gunner's fault. He'd promised me a direct hit.”
Much of the dialogue features similar banter, and not just between the soldiers. Hard luck Jinny can quip with the best of them:
Jinny said faintly, “I thought you went to jail.” She looked ready to be sick. She held a cracker halfway to her mouth, forgotten.
“Can't keep a good man down, honey.”
“What's that got to do with you?”
In the end the killers reveal themselves and Biggo—by now seeking revenge as well as a payoff—brings hell directly to their doorstep, or in this case to their yacht in the harbor. The climax brings a surprise or two, and Biggo's fate hinges upon who to trust, and who not to. Devil May Care is a wide-open sort of tale about dangerous men, but its title proves to be contradictory. Biggo pretends not to care about anything except the next mission and the next exotic port of call, but his acceptance of his own aging and his slim hope for retirement and a restful old age matter—in the end—more than anything else. The book has some moments that might make modern readers quail, but all the portrayals and reactions make sense in context. We loved this one.
You paid the cover charge to get in. Now you have to pay the uncover charge or get out.
The brush behind this cover for Wade Miller's 1946 debut thriller Deadly Weapon was paperback vet Bob Abbett, and it's one of his better pieces in a portfolio filled with top efforts. The book is good too. It's about an Atlanta detective who drives to San Diego to avenge the death of his partner, and as befits such a concept, features excellent Sam Spade-like repartee between main character Walter James and a local cop named Austin Clapp. Some of the action is centered around a burlesque theatre and its headlining peeler Shasta Lynn, but the deadly weapon isn't a femme fatale, as implied by the art, but Walter James himself. The man is hell on wheels. He even uses his car to ram another auto and its occupants over a cliff. Overall, Deadly Weapon is well written, well paced, and well characterized (if a bit saccharine in the romantic subplot). Wade Miller—who was really Bob Wade and Bill Miller acting as one—started his/their career on a good note with this one.
She purrs but only when she's thinking about destroying you.
This edition of Wade Miller's iconic sleazer teaser Kitten with a Whip is a rarity and it came from Gold Medal in 1963. There's a moment early in the narrative when the hapless protagonist David turns on a news report about the seventeen-year-old sexpot invader occupying his home. Up until then the girl, whose name is Jody, has been in David's house tormenting him only a few hours, but is threatening to ruin his life with lies that they've been shacked up having a grand old time, or that he tried to rape her. David is paralyzed with fear that his wife, neighbors, and employer will believe her. But in that moment when the entire city is told the girl is a violent psycho who escaped her confinement a mere twelve hours earlier by stabbing a matron, David doesn't realize nobody will believe anything she says—not his employers, not his neighbors, and certainly not his wife—as long as he turns her in then and there. “I woke up, found her in my house, bought her some clothes because she had none, gave her money for a bus out of town—and instead of leaving she decided to stay and blackmail me.” He'd be believed, beyond a doubt. But he never makes the call. So he really deserves everything that happens afterward. But the book is a classic for a reason. It's a fun, crazy read.
The ultimate hunt is one where the prey can shoot back.
The cover copy perhaps gives the impression Wade Miller's The Killer is about a hunter who goes after human prey for sport, but it's actually about a man who hires a professional big game hunter to track down and kill his son's murderer. While the hero uses his unique skill set to lay a trap or two and make some interesting deductions, the story is a standard thriller. But a pretty good one, set in different locales in the U.S., with a few decent twists and a nice—if somewhat overwrought—love story. Both covers from Gold Medal were compelling, with art by C.C. Beall and an unknown, 1951 and 1958.