Sat 29 Nov 2008
ALBERT CONROY – Devil in Dungarees. Crest 349; paperback original, 1st printing, January 1960.
As opposed to my comments at the end of my review of Murder Gets a Degree, the sexual behavior and general lasciviousness exhibited by the characters in this book bothered me not at all. For the most part, it’s because it’s an integral part of the plot (see below), but there is another reason, one which I haven’t fully formulated, or if I have, maybe I haven’t even convinced myself it’s true. (I don’t mean to sound mysterious, but if I do, you’re just going to have to live with it.)
This bit of authentic Americana falls into a category no longer as common as it used to be in written fiction, but the theme has recently been picked up on by the movies — films such as Body Heat are direct descendants of the type. That is to say, a tale in which a good but severely flawed male is corrupted by the pleasures of the flesh, as embodied (and how!) by a young wanton of the opposite sex.
In this one, it is a cop who goes bad — and so does the bank job he’s persuaded to lend a hand on. It is therefore not so much Peggy’s story, in spite of the spectacular entrance she makes, straight from the shower, but Walt Bonner’s, and that of Ben Travis, his partner on the force.
Albert Conroy (quite possibly a pseudonym) wrote something less than a dozen books of the same vintage and era (late 50s and early 60s), although there was a Al Conroy who wrote some Mafia-type books for Lancer during the 70s. He’s not the type of writer to make any reference books other than Hubin, but this book at least is a humdinger. Once the bank caper goes awry, and the chase begins, the pace never sags in the least.
It would make a terrific movie, filmed exactly as written, of the type starring Richard Widmark, Lee Marvin, and Edmond O’Brien. (I haven’t yet decided whom I’d want to see playing Peggy.)
[UPDATE] 11-29-08. First of all, I have no idea what I was referring to at the end of the first paragraph. I could guess, but I might be wrong, and you’d probably be no better off either way, would you?
But more importantly — and I’m sure many of you caught this right away — it’s now fairly well known that Albert Conroy was indeed a pen name, and for Marvin H. Albert, who wrote tons of books under his own name and others, not only mysteries, but westerns and movie tie-ins, too.
Nor am I the only one who likes Devil in Dungarees. Bill Crider does too, so much so that he wrote a Gold Medal Corner column about him for me a few years ago.
It’s online here, and not only does it have the same cover image as on this post, as well as several more, but I expanded it by putting together a complete bibliography for Albert/Conroy/Nick Quarry/Tony Rome and all of his other bylines.
You should go read it, and I hope you do.