RICHARD SALE – Benefit Performance. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1946. Dell #252, mapback edition, 1948.

   So, what it is, is a hardboiled Prince and the Pauper. I’m surprised I’ve never seen it before. It’s quite ingenious. Ingenuous? Maybe. But totally ingenious.

   Kerry Garth, a well-known B-actor, is pooped. Just finished the wrap on three features in a row, two of which filmed simultaneously. The man needs a break.

   But there’s the stupid premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. No freakin’ way.

   Fortunately, Kerry’s got a spot-on stand-in: Joshua Barnes.

   Pretty much an identical brother from another mother. Physically, anyway. A bit younger, but nothing a bit of Grecian Formula can’t fix.

   For a C note, Barnes agrees to stand-in for Garth at the premier. As long as no one gets too close, no one will be the wiser.

   At the premier, though, the unthinkable: Kerry Garth is assassinated! Assailant unknown!

   Of course, the reader and Kerry know that it wasn’t the REAL Kerry Garth that got assassinated. But pretty much no one else knows!

   Someone is trying to kill Kerry Garth–but Kerry has no idea who or why. He has no enemies that he knows of.

   But one thing’s for sure. Being Kerry Garth ain’t too good for your health.

   So Kerry’s only choice is to assume the identity of his stand-in: Barnes.

   Unfortunately, Barnes turns out to be quite the unsavory character. The role isn’t too fun. And it’s unpaid. Hence, a ‘benefit performance’.

   And Barnes turns out to be murder suspect #1 in the murder of Kerry Garth! So now the cops are after Kerry Garth for his own murder!!

   Can he prove he’s really the prince and not the pauper? Or will he fry for a suicide he didn’t commit?

   The book is slick, fast, fun and fabulous. The words just hum. Seamlessly. No seams.

   Richard Sale and the best of the other hardboiled writers of the 20’s to 50’s were able to take language of ordinary working class Americans and make it sing.

   Because I’m a pretentious bastard I’ll go on, though I need not, I am sure, to belabor the point I mean to belabor. And to accentuate my pretentiousness I’ll quote Wordsworth, who says of colloquial speech: “[T]he greatest Poet … must, in liveliness and truth, fall far short of that which is uttered by men in real life, under the actual pressure of those passions”. And Moliere: “These forty years now I’ve been speaking in prose without knowing it!”

   Hardboiled writers like Sale streamlined ordinary speech patterns in this zenith of American culture to create an architecture of thought and story with crisp lines, moral clarity, and, most of all, sheer joy.

   It’s a time machine to better times. Don’t miss it.

   Some alternate takes: