WADE MILLER – Killerís Choice.

WADE MILLER Killer's Choice

Signet 771; paperback reprint. First printing, February 1950. Second printing, Signet 1235, 1955. Fourth printing, 1961. Originally published as Devil on Two Sticks by Farrar, Straus & Co., Inc. Appeared earlier in Famous Detective magazine, November 1949. Trade paperback: Stark House, June 2008 (paired with The Killer, Gold Medal, 1951).

   In case you were wondering, I have no information about the third Signet printing. It may have been a Canadian printing. But between 1961, when the fourth printing appeared, and the forthcoming edition from Stark House, thatís over 45 years that the book was out of print. (At least itís coming back. There are many, many books that are over 45 years old and will never see print again, and I donít mean only hardboiled novels like Killerís Choice.)

   If youíd like to read more about the writing pair of Robert Wade and Bill Miller, then I can send you to no better place than the original Mystery*File website, where you can find an overview of their career, many reviews of their work, a partial bibliography, and an interview with Mr. Wade conducted by Ed Lynskey back in 2004.

WADE MILLER Killer's Choice

   Killerís Choice (or Devil on Two Sticks, if you prefer) is not one of Wade Millerís stories of private eye Max Thursday, which I can highly recommend to you, if you are a private eye fan, and even if youíre not. Itís instead a tough, hard-as-nails story of a mobster named Steve Beck, or rather a head mobsterís right hand man, or enforcer, if you will.

   The setting is San Diego, and when word gets to Beckís boss, a fellow by the name of Pat Garland, that the state Attorney Generalís office in Sacramento has a direct line into his operations, itís Beckís job to find the insider and plug the leak, and fast. Itís like a detective story in reverse, with a list of suspects from which to pick the Good Guy, not the other way around.

   Complicating matters is that Beck is falling in love with the daughter of one of his possible choices, a lawyer by the name of Everett. Marcy is slim, young and not as sophisticated as she thinks she is, and a far cry from Beckís usual taste in women. One more problem: Marcy seems to favor one of Beckís other suspects more than she does him. Jealousy is an ugly monster.

WADE MILLER Killer's Choice

   There is at least one additional surprise in store for the reader, which I wonít even begin to hint at, other than what I’ve just said. Surprisingly, though, and not the surprise I just alluded to, is that there is not a lot of action in this novel of the rackets. A lot of talk Ė a lot of threats, some subtle, some not Ė most of it very intelligent, and you have to read every word behind what everyone says, if you know what I mean.

   I was reminded more of Dashiell Hammett more than I was Raymond Chandler while reading Killerís Choice. Robert Wade mentions both as influences in the Lynskey interview, along with Alfred Hitchcock, and I can see the latter as well. The book would have made a terrific movie back around 1950, and in the right hands, it still would today.

   But I mention Hammett in the following sense. We follow the story’s progress through Steve Beck, although he does not tell the story himself. We know what he says and what we sees, but we do not always know what heís thinking, and for a hoodlum, he thinks a lot. And it also turns out that heís not quite as capable as he has always led himself to believe, and it comes as quite a shock when he discovers this Ė especially to him.

   It’s also, believe it or not, a fair play story of detective novel also, or very nearly so. The clues are there when you look back, but even so, they’re still rather subtle, and it’s no wonder I missed them the first time around. (I kick myself like this rather often, you understand.)

   As I hope I’ve made clear, this is not your usual Mike Hammer kind of yarn, to pick a rather obvious author to use in comparison, but at the time the books of both of them came out, I think Wade Millerís books did respectably well in the competition, and deservedly so. It’s good to see this one coming out again, there’s no doubt about that.

WADE MILLER Killer's Choice