JONATHAN GANT – Never Say No to a Killer. Ace Double D-157, paperback original; 1st printing, 1956. Published back-to-back with Stab in the Dark, by Louis Trimble.

   Jonathan Gant, as it turns out — I didn’t remember it when I picked this one out from my upstairs book closet on Monday — was a pen name of Clifton Adams, who wrote a few other tough crime novels for Gold Medal, but was mostly known for his westerns. One of Bill Crider’s Gold Medal columns for Mystery*File talks about him extensively, and you can read it here.

   As a tough guy, Roy Surrat, the protagonist in Never Say No is as hard-boiled as they come. In prison for five years for what he calls a botched bank robbery, he kills two guards in making a well-planned escape. The only thing that goes wrong, he discovers, is that his primary accomplice, a former cellmate, is dead.

   As part of the escape plan, he’s picked up instead by Dorris Venci, the dead man’s wife. Suspicious at first, he decides to take her up on getting rid of Alex Burton, the ex-governor of the state. Dorris is sure had her husband bumped off, and she’s afraid that she is next. One big bonus is the evidence Roy’s former partner in crime had accumulated against all his enemies — big time crooks, all of them, some in high power.

   Blackmail, any one? The more Surrat entrenches himself into the dirty politics of Lake City (no state mentioned), the more you know he’s heading for a fall, and as in all good noir dramas, fall he does — which includes falling for Alex Burton’s girl friend, maybe not the smartest thing in the world, and dumping Mrs. Venci, which may be even a worse mistake.

   But in good noir novels do the protagonists listen to you, the reader? No, and women are always (or almost always) their means to a bad end. (I hope I didn’t give anything away.)

   It’s a good story, but in all honesty, as the leading man in this quickly-paced melodrama, Roy Surrat is a difficult character to swallow. He’s a mad dog killer, but he tells his story intelligently and is well-versed in Nietzschean philosophy. While I don’t remember him describing himself, he also seems attractive enough to women, although at least one of them has a serious character disorder herself.

   But no matter — Surrat’s downfall is of his own making, and if you’re clever enough, Jonathan Gant plots the tale carefully enough that maybe you can spot the clue that starts Surrat’s fate unraveling in the wrong direction right at the time it does.