LESTER DENT – Honey in His Mouth. Hard Case Crime #60, paperback original; 1st printing, October 2009. Cover by Ron Lesser.

   I am sure that every review of this book is going to start the same way, so why should I be any different? Lester Dent, as far as he is going to be remembered, will be known primarily as the author of all but 20 of the 181 Doc Savage novels published in the pulp magazine of the same title in the 1930s and 40s. Unfortunately for Dent, only one of those stories were published under his own name. All of the others were as by Kenneth Robeson.

   When Dent died in 1959, only 54 years old, he was attempting to shift over into writing hardcover mysteries, with only a small amount of success. This particular effort, I am told, was written in 1956 but was never published. What I have been unable to learn so far is why, or more precisely, why not.

   It’s a tough, hard-boiled novel that I would say that most of the companies publishing tough, hard-boiled novels in 1956 would have accepted. If not Gold Medal, then there were quite a few others that (in my opinion) should have welcomed the chance to print this.

   Walter Harsh, the leading character, is a tough one to sympathize with, though. He’s a small-time grifter, basically ignorant but far from stupid, making a few bucks here and there by selling people photographs of themselves through a bit of flim-flam and fancy talking. As the story opens, he’s being chased by a guy in another car who loaned him $712 worth of photo supplies on credit, money Harsh doesn’t have and can’t give back.

   Speeding through the Missouri countryside at high speeds is not a great idea. After the crash, Harsh has one badly smashed arm, the one hanging out the window, and the other guy is dead, crushed under his car as it flipped over him a couple of times.

   Recuperating in a hospital bed, with only his comely lady assistant Vera Sue at his side, Harsh is wondering about his future when the story really begins. Although it takes him a while before he catches on, Harsh is recruited to be a stand-in for a South American dictator whom he closely resemblances, down to the same rare blood type.

   Apparently a revolution in the dictator’s country is in the works, and several of his close associates are making plans to dispose of the man and make off with the millions of dollars of cash and jewels he has stashed away.

   Harsh’s cut? A mere $50,000, and unaware of the higher stakes involved, boy, does he want that money. He is the greediest, meanest, short on finesse son-of-a-bitch ever to get mixed up in a scheme like this. Not even the inclusion of one Miss Muirz, the dictator’s long-time mistress and in on the plot (see the cover) can keep his mind off what he has coming to him.

   There is no explicit sex in this story, only some rough-handed violence, mostly at the hands of Harsh directed toward Vera Sue. Plans such as the one the dictator’s friends have hatched up seldom go well, at least in books, and so it is the case here. Harsh is a piece of work all right. It’s hard to remember another character anything like him, and Dent brings him to life to perfection.