MAX CARTER – Call Me Killer! Avon A542, paperback original, 1953.

   The damnedest thing I’ve read in a long time (is the title an homage to Melville or Merman?) not least because I can’t find any references to “Max Carter” and I can’t say whether he wrote anything else, used another pen name or just appeared, dropped this bombshell and stole softly into the pulp-paper night.

   The story starts with the narrator, Ed Dirke, a one-time successful playwright being released from prison after a seven-year stretch for murdering his girlfriend. In a quick flashback, Dirke tells us how his brother Carl manipulated him into the killing, and lets us know he’s out to settle things Old-Testament-style with a life for a life.

   Turns out Dirk’s brother won’t play Abel to his Cain all that easily though; Carl is a big-time buyer-and-seller of anything profitable, and he’s surrounded himself with a lot of big and well-armed disciples, as well as a few well-cantilevered dames with moves that would make a Bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window, as the man says.

   Come to think of it, there’s only one woman in the whole book who keeps her clothes on for more than a couple pages, and like a hero out of Spillane, Dirke is what they call “sexually active” these days whenever he’s not being beaten up, bound, shot-at or merely propositioned.

   Pretty standard stuff so far, but Dirke isn’t your average paperback tough-guy. He’s more writer than fighter, and his relationship with his brother borders on the unnatural. He’s also subject to blackouts, and his actions take a turn very early on that changes the reader’s whole outlook on the tale as we realize that our hero may be hallucinating as much as he’s narrating.

   I won’t give any more away, except to say that the action is routine paperback riot, no better or worse than a dozen other hard-boiled histories, but Carter puts a subversive enough edge to it that I wish I knew who-the-hell he was.