|Vintage Pulp||Mar 15 2023|
I am with child. Your diving for lobsters and snaring rabbits must end. I hear the new Burger King on the island is hiring.
We appreciate when genre authors think outside the box, so first off we have to give credit to Charles Runyon for trying to throw readers a curve with his thriller Color Him Dead. It was published in 1963 and has a premise that's unusual. A man breaks out of prison and flees to the fictional Caribbean island of St. Patricia, set on revenge against the person who framed him and got him a life sentence for murder. That person is Edith Barrington, wife and virtual prisoner of her husband Ian. Our anti-hero, whose name is Drew Simmons, plans to murder Edith.
But when Drew finally finds her, he discovers she has total amnesia, the result of a breakdown and electroshock treatment. So he decides he can't kill her until she remembers what she did to him. He needs that recognition to make his revenge sweet. That means restoring her memory. And the only way he can figure out to do that is to have an affair with her. Maybe some deep dicking from a penis out of her past will jog her memory. Offbeat, no?
The plan hinges on one of the hoariest clichés in genre fiction: we'll call it the beat-and-switch. Ian keeps Edith guarded around the clock by a fearsome brute named Doxie. The end product of a century-old slave breeding experiment (we won't even get into that), Doxie is supposed to keep Edith from enjoying any extracurriculars with island visitors, and since he's castrated he's perfect for the job. But when Drew beats the shit out of Doxie, Ian fires his loyal aide and gives Drew the job of guarding his wife.
That's a completely stupid move, not least because Drew has a penis that works, yet more than a few thrillers are built around the device of a foolish man placing an enemy in control of that which he wants most protected. It rarely passes the credulity test, and it doesn't pass here either. In addition to this, Drew gets caught up in a revolution. In fact, he somehow becomes central to it, as often happens to tough guy protagonists in mid-century fiction. We won't get into that either, because it's stupid also.
Runyon tried something different, and we'll also note that he took advantage of the loosening censorship standards of the 1960s to write a tale that's more sexual than most, but he needed better conceptualizing and execution—particularly to get at the core of Drew's conflict over using sex as an avenue to murder. At least the paperback has nice Robert McGinnis cover art—which in mood is very much like this one. McGinnis goes topless with his female figure, probably one of the earlier instances of nudity on a Gold Medal novel.