DAY KEENE – Joy House. Lion #210, paperback original, 1954. First published in much shorter form as “She Shall Make Murder,” Detective Tales, November 1949. Expanded manuscript, circa 1952. Revised/edited version published by Lion in 1954. Lancer 72-628, reprint paperback, 1962, published in a 2-in-1 edition with City of Sin by Milton K. Ozaki. Reprinted by Stark House Press, softcover, 2017, in a newly revised edition based on the 1952 manuscript by David Laurence Wilson. This is a 3-in-1 edition with Sleep with the Devil (Lion, 1954; reviewed here) and Wake Up to Murder (Avon, 1952; reviewed here). Film: MGM, 1964; also released as The Love Cage.

   If you ever have the urge to read a real down to earth noir novel, as solid as solid can be, and this one’s handy, look no further. You aren’t gong to find many books, nor authors, better than this one. If you have to go looking, though, you’ll probably need to pass on coming up with the Lion edition. I’ll get back to this, but I just looked, and there’s only one copy offered on right now, and that one has an asking price of $250.

   The book opens with our protagonist — not hero — awakening in a Chicago flophouse following a weeks-long drunken binge. How he made it to Chicago from California Mark Harris does not know. At one time a top notch criminal lawyer, all he remembers now is killing his wife, faking an accident to put the authorities off the trail, and going on the run.

   And here’s what every bum on skid row dreams of. A rich “crazy” lady whose support the mission depends on, sees him and he’s cleaned himself up, asks him if he’d like to be her chauffeur. A widow, Mrs. Hill is blonde, beautiful and still young. Would you say no? Mark Harris doesn’t either.

   He also knows, or strongly senses, that she has an ulterior motive in mind. Alone in a boarded up relic of a house for ten years, with only a black maid for company, indeed she does. The maid knows full well what is going on, and she is quite correct.

   All is well for a while. Mrs. Hill has a past, though, and when a man from that past makes his way into the house, he ends up dead, and it is up to Mark Harris (now Phil Thomas, an “accountant” from Atlanta) to dispose of the body. Even though it is May Hill’s plan for them to get married and escape to Rio, it is downhill all the way from here.

   And if you can stop reading once you’ve gotten to this point, you’re a better person than I am. Keene’s prose may have been pulpish and not always polished, true. It is gritty and fatalistic but never quite salacious — you can use your imagination for that.

   Every word pulls you on to the next, and not always gently. Entire pages will be swallowed up in a gulp, until you’ve reached the last one, when at last you can come up for air and let yourself savor the ending just a while longer.

   If I’ve intrigued you at all, and I hope I have, my suggestion is to obtain a copy of the recent Stark House edition. With two other novels included, all three by Day Keene, it’s quite a bargain.