HARRY WHITTINGTON – The Brass Monkey. Handi-Book #138; paperback original, 1951. Harlequin 366, Canada, paperback, 1956.

   Harry Whittington is not a name very well known today, but in his day, he was one of the most prolific paperback writers of all time. He doesn’t have the reputation of a Jim Thompson, however, and that’s too bad, because I enjoy his books about three times more. They’re more entertaining, for one thing, but still quick and easy to read.


   And you can trust Whittington, if he were to write a PI book, which this is, to be different from most any other PI book you were to pick up and read. There is one large glaring flaw, which — even though it’s not an absolutely essential ingredient of the story — I’ll relegate to telling you about in a FOOTNOTE (*), and another hopelessly unmanageable coincidence, but it’s still a fascinating attempt to pull off a trick no other writer has even done, so far as I know.

   The PI is James Patterson, and he lives in Honolulu. He’s married to a rich woman who absolutely adores him, and that is precisely the problem. He married her only to prove to himself to the woman he really loved, but who jilted him. His present wife Troy he treats like dirt.

   The dead man is Herb Baldwin, Patterson’s best friend, and about his equal, as far as losers of the world are concerned. The policeman in charge of the case is Lanai Okazi, and the other girl who falls for Patterson (and no, I guess I don’t believe this either) is the beautiful Ona Kalani.

   The only other main character in this novel is the “emasculated” brass monkey (there’s a joke that goes along these lines, isn’t there?), which if you were looking for underlying meaning, would obviously represent Patterson himself — due to his loss of the love of his life, Julie, and unable to form any meangful relationship with his wife.

   And all of this is relevant to the case he’s trying to solve as well. As I said earlier, it doesn’t quite come off, but if you ever find a copy (I doubt it will ever be reprinted), you should grab it up at once.


FOOTNOTE (*) PLOT WARNING:   The flaw I mentioned is this. The police think the dead man in Chapter One is an obvious suicide victim. Patterson knows the man, and he thinks otherwise. Going to the morgue, he takes a piece of wire and pulls the bullet from the victim’s brain — and guess what? — it doesn’t match the caliber of the gun the dead man had in his hand.

   There are at least two things wrong with this. (A) What morgue attendant is going to stand aside and let him do this, and (B) what police department (even in 1951) is not going to have this checked out themselves. In this book, (A) he did, and (B) they didn’t.

   I also mentioned a whopper of a coincidence. ** PLOT ALERT CONTINUED ** The girl Patterson is sent off on a wild goose chase with (an overnight stand) is also the girl friend of the police lieutenant Patterson has gotten himself into deep trouble with.

   It’s an interesting development, to say the least, but if there was any reason the girl was deliberately chosen with that reason in mind, I think I must have missed it.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 32, July 1991.

[UPDATE] 01-14-12.   I’ve dug this review out the files as a followup to my much more recent review of Mourn the Hangman, also by Whittington and posted here.

   I confess that I don’t remember anything about The Brass Monkey than what you’ve just read yourself. (What the “fascinating attempt to pull off a trick no other writer has even done” was, I know not what.) But even though it’s clear that I didn’t think that Whittington was the second coming of Raymond Chandler, I enjoyed the book then, and there’s a good chance that maybe I would again now.