HARRY WHITTINGTON – The Humming Box. Ace Double #D-185, paperback original, 1956. Published back-to-back with Build My Gallows High, by Geoffrey Homes.

   I recently revisited a book I picked up back in College. I was pretty wild back in those days, you see, and my gang and I would sometimes get in an old jalopy, pool money for gas, and tear up to Cleveland, where we’d spend the day prowling the seedier parts of town, scouting out Used Book Stores and whistling at girls. Or maybe we just scouted out Used Book Stores. It’s been a long time, Anyway, on one of these raids, I picked up Ace Double #D-185 featuring The Humming Box by Harry Whittington. Inside the front cover, the blurb page offered a Cast of Characters, including:

         LORNA PALMER: A modern Pandora. Her box was no myth!

   Ah, the things they used to get away with in those days! Anyway, The Humming Box is better than it sounds, despite the pulpy plot (Everyone in it seems to be plotting to murder somebody, though none of them are much good at it.) and the lurid packaging. Whittington works some really creepy scenes from the (rather timely) concept of a package of disease-carrying mosquitoes smuggled out of Korea by a psychotic GI, then fallen into the hands of a scheming heiress who’s being blackmailed by …. well, you get the idea. Sheer pulp, but carried off competently by a past master of the form.

   By the way, the flip-side of this gem is none other than Build My Gallows High, Geoffrey Homes’ novel basis of the Ultimate Film Noir, Out of the Past. It’s a bit more diffuse and perhaps less powerful than the film, but still a well-plotted and tightly-written bit of business. Homes evokes the minor characters well and keeps the story moving with the occasional oddly poetic touch that recalls Chandler at his best. Makes me wonder why he never did anything else as good.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson #19, May 2002.