HANK JANSON – Becky. Hank Janson #58(?) Gold Star IL7-70, US, paperback, 1965. Revised from its first publication in the UK as Sinister Rapture (Moring, paperback, 1957).

   Based on its cover, this is a book far different that I’m sure you’d be expecting. It’s #17 in its US Gold Star series, but its one of a much longer line of Hank Janson books published in the UK. [The numbering is questionable since it is one of five published in 1957, but listed alphabetically in Hubin for that year.] Janson is a crime writer for the Chicago Chronicle, a guy with a perpetual leer for the ladies and a lousy nose for a story right under his eyes.

   Among his many other adventures are such titles as A Nympho Named Sylvia, so what you expect in this one (I did) is a glorified sex farce a la Carter Brown, but what you really get is an even greater dose of that old paranoid TV series The Prisoner. The Chicago of this book is unlike any Chicago that ever existed, and the story will absolutely knock you off your feet.

   Let me back up a little, and then maybe I can do something about substantiating this claim. If you don’t have a copy of this book already, you’ll probably have a hard time coming up with one, so if I cover the plot a but more thoroughly than usual, I don’t think it could possibly hurt.

   Hank Janson the author, according to Al Hubin, was a house name used by a number of writers of a whole slew of cheap British thrillers, a scattering of which were published in this country by Gold Star Books, a small and insignificant company [that published 60 to 70 books between that years 1963 to 1965. Also known since this review was first published is that Stephen D. Frances was the author of this one, as now so stated in the current edition of Crime Fiction IV.]

   I haven’t read any of the other ones, but there’s certainly little that happens any where in the first half of the book that’s in any way out of the ordinary. An obvious crackpot comes to Janson’s newspaper office and tries to convince him that he’s come up with a mathematical formula that will nullify the radioactive effects of nuclear fission, but he can’t get anyone in authority to listen to him. In no mood for japery, Janson quickly shoos the old man away.

   Soon after, though, Janson gets a visit from a good-looking girl, one wearing transparent leggings as protection against the never-ending rain in Chicago. (Neither the rain nor the leggings are ever explained, by the way, but no matter.) She is Professor Morgan’s niece, on a visit from Florida, and he has disappeared. The police are not particularly interested.

   When Janson investigates, he gets the same kind of brushoff. He suspects bribery. He also stays overnight with Becky — she’s the niece, and she has this cute sort of pony tail, and with a little prodding, nature just seems to take it course.

   But then he discovers he’s been poking his nose in a bit too far. An organization calls Security shows up. Two quiet-spoken guys who think Janson is becoming a nuisance. Two guys who see Communist agents everywhere, Two guys who would work well with the American Investigation Committee (page 84). Two guys who think Christianity is the state religion (page 86). “Do you love your country,” they ask.

   Janson is fired. Insubordination. No other paper will give him a tumble. He’s booted out of his apartment. The tenancy law is quoted, and he’s given a week’s notice. Someone with more power than Security gives him a visit, someone named Mr. Brown. “There are inner workings of inner workings, matters of utter public importance that are too delicate to be handled by woolly-minded senators… Do you know, Mr. Janson, that the penalty for being a traitor is death?”

   Janson ends up naked in a sealed room with only a bed, toilet facilities and a small door through which meals can be provided. For how long, he doesn’t know. When released, he discovers he still has no story, because — you guessed it — no one will believe him anyway.

   There obviously is a huge parallel here between the dismal days of McCarthyism here in this country in the 1950s, given a quick little twist in the form of an overseas perspective. I’m not sure if it still has a form of social significance any more, or if it was worth all of this space to describe it, but please note that I haven’t even mentioned yet the girl Janson meets on page 90 — an utter misanthrope who is harder than any nails you can imagine and who just about steals him out of the story before it’s even half begun. She’s a stunner, and — this is the truth — I’ve not read a character quite like her is anything I’ve ever read before.

— Slightly revised and expanded from Mystery*File #17, November 1989.