ROBERT AMES – Awake and Die. Gold Medal #518, paperback original; 1st printing, September 1955.

   Not much seems to be known about the author. This is the third of three crime novels he wrote for Gold Medal, the earlier ones being The Devil Drives (1952) and The Dangerous One (1954), both of which I own, but this is the first of the three that I’ve read. In Crime Fiction IV, Al Hubin tells us that Robert Ames was a pen name of Charles Clifford, but that he was not the same Charles L. Clifford who wrote While the Bells Ran, which I reviewed here some short time ago.

   Unless, maybe? At the moment this is all I know, so it’s possible that the two are one and the same. To stay on the safe side, however, let’s assume they’re not. It makes no difference, really, in whether this is a book you’d enjoy reading or not.

   Awake and Die is told in first person a hunky young war veteran named Will Peters who came home from Korea with a bullet removed from his head and a 50% disability pension. He’s working as a clamdigger along the Jersey shore as the story begins, which it does with some gusto, right off the bat.

   First he meets a the girl of his dreams on a dock, dressed in white shirt with nothing underneath, red shorts and with long tanned legs. She’s married but that doesn’t seem to stop her from having all eyes for Will. Nor he for her, for that matter.

   Will, however, is encumbered with a live-in lady friend who has become increasingly tiresome to live with, and another young female acquaintance who with a little encouragement, wouldn’t mind taking the other woman’s place.

   Three women interested in him, as pleasant as that may sound, is at least two more than Will can handle. At the same time that Will has plans for his live-in lady friend, unfortunately for her, quite coincidentally Mrs. Grace (the one on the dock) has a husband she is no longer very fond of, to put it mildly.

   Two, no make that three deaths later, Will’s destiny is in the hand of Chris, female acquaintance number three, plus (quite surreally) a hermit who lives on the shore and does not speak except ventriloqistically through his three companions, a dog, a cat, and a seagull. A recently demoted cop named Rogers hangs tight on Will’s tail constantly, wanting his old job back, and knowing just how he’s going to do it.

   The story that plays out from here is more than competently told, but while there is a twist or two along the way, I had in mind a couple of even better ones. Toward the end of the tale a couple of questions I had about the telling are answered, so all of the loose ends are tied up, but in true noir fashion, not too happily for most of the participants. I’ve read better along these same lines, but equally so, I hasten to add, many that were a whole lot worse.