WILLIAM H. FIELDING – Take Me As I Am. Gold Medal #272, paperback original; 1st printing, November 1952.

   One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2015 is to read (or re-read) as many of my collection of old Gold Medal paperbacks as I can, primarily if not solely the crime and mystery ones. GM also printed westerns and general fiction, often with noirish themes and overtones, but I’ll concentrate on the crime novels that made their reputation, then (back in the 1950s) as well as now as the best source of true noir fiction on the planet.

   And obviously I’ll be reporting back here as I go. I think it will be one of my first-of-2015 promises to myself that I’ll keep.

   And Take Me As I Am is as tough and noirish as they come, and I’ll get to the story line in just a minute. But first I’d like to point out that William H. Fielding was the pen-name for Darwin L. Teilhet, who under his own name and often in collaboration with his wife Hildegarde wrote (among others) a series of Golden Age of Detection mysteries featuring a character called Baron von Kaz.

   I don’t know very much about their early books, but Doug Greene has this to say about them, in part: “…fair play detective novels of the 1930’s, sometimes with impossible crimes (The Ticking Terror Murders, Death Flies High, Murder In the Air) and generally with a Liberal social attitude — The Talking Sparrow Murders is strongly anti-Nazi at a time when too many people thought of the Nazis as merely German nationalists. Also noteworthy are four novels featuring the Baron Von Kaz.”

   Teilhet then turned to spy thrillers in the 1940s, and when the Gold Medal paperback revolution came along in the early 1950s, he apparently saw an opportunity there too and jumped on board. The other Fielding books in Hubin is The Unpossessed (GM #202, 1951), which I hope to get to sooner, if I can, rather than later. Not in Hubin is Beautiful Humbug (GM #430, 1954), which is about a notorious female swindler. It takes place in 1860s San Francisco, with one source describing it as historical fiction, but I have a feeling that it is true crime instead.

   Take Me As I Am starts out slowly, with a strong sense of déjà vu, one of those books that if you’ve read widely in the field of early noir fiction, you’re sure you’ve read before. Alma, a young blonde girl in her early 20s, is the getaway driver for a gang of mobsters in an armored car robbery that goes bad. Suddenly she finds herself on her own, driving a car with a suitcase in the back full of money, $100,000 worth, in fact.

   In desperation, looking for a way to drive through the roadblocks that have been set up in the area, she picks up a young hitchhiker named Bill Owens, four years younger than she and making his way to Sacramento for a job that he hopes is waiting for him there.

   It doesn’t happen immediately, but there is an attraction between the two that begins to grow. Standing between them, though, although he doesn’t know it, is the money. Alma is torn between the two: young Bill, whose wholesome naiveté is so appealing, or the $100,000 in cash.

   There are also plenty of twists ahead. I somehow lost track along the way, but there is more than a double-cross on the part of someone involved. It is instead a triple-cross and (gangsters being what they are) perhaps one beyond that. It takes a lot of coincidences to occur for all of the pieces together, but as in the best of Cornell Woolrich, Fielding makes us believe them at the time.

   Picking up momentum as it goes, the last 30 pages of Take Me As I Am can be read in one 15 minute gulp. The ending will please any fan of noir fiction, I guarantee it.