HARRY WHITTINGTON – Mourn the Hangman. Graphic #46, paperback original, 1952. Never reprinted.


   Throughout the 1950s into the mid-1960s, Harry Whittington was one of the most prolific paperback writers around, producing dozens of tough guy mysteries, westerns and noirish fiction in a period of time that was surprisingly short, when you look back upon it.

   When that line of work began to peter out, he switched to writing a total of nearly 200 semi-sleazy novels under a host of pen names. Ashley Carter was one of the better known of these, one which he used as a byline for a series of historical “plantation” novels in the 1970s.

   Mourn the Hangman was published early in his career, and while there is a strong overall narrative drive to the tale, the plot isn’t particularly well developed, crammed as it is with fast nonstop action, bursts of sudden violence, undeveloped characters and marred by occasional threadbare coincidences.

   It’s as if the story were packed in too tightly, so that it’s bursting at the seams and all but out of control. At nearly 190 pages of small print, it’s too long to be read in one sitting, but if you can manage it, that’s how I’d recommend you proceed, with your thought processes tampered down, perhaps, and your adrenaline cranked up high.

   Steve Blake is the leading character, a private eye whose estranged wife who’s returning to him is murdered early on, leaving the rest of the book little more than a catalog and travelogue of his trail of revenge.

   Not only is he caught between two powerful government contractors each accusing the other of industrial espionage, but the cops are hard on his trail, his partner in the PI business has sold him out, and a good-looking girl in the shabby hotel room next door, burdened with her own sadness, looks wistfully after him, not that he has time for her, because that’s not the kind of novel this is.

   If only he’d called the cops at the beginning, you might say, and I’d certainly echo that thought – but that’s not how novels like this work. Guys like Blake are largely muscle and guts and little grey matter upstairs.

   From the description you may have already decided whether or not you might enjoy this novel more than I did. My opinion is that Mourn the Hangman is part of a career in progress, a book written toward the beginning of his, flawed but with flashes of something better to come.