A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review by Max Allan Collins:

JOHN B. WEST – An Eye for an Eye.


Signet #1642, paperback original; 1st printing, February 1959, plus at least one reprint edition.

   John B. West was a man of many talents and achievements: A doctor, he was both a general practitioner and a specialist in tropical diseases; he was also the owner of a broadcasting company, manufacturing firm, and hotel/restaurant corporation. He lived in Liberia, was black, and late in his life — as a pastime, apparently — wrote novels about white private eye Rocky Steele, of New York City.

   West appears to have been used by Signet Books as an attempt to fill the gap when their star seller, Mickey Spillane, stubbornly refused to write any more novels (until The Deep in 1960, that is). While the Rocky Steele novels were never any real competition for Mike Hammer (or anyone else), the six titles in the series did go through various printings and editions.

   An Eye for an Eye, the first Rocky Steele adventure — in which for no particular reason the private eye avenges the death of the blond, beautiful, and wealthy Norma Carteret — is singled out here arbitrarily, as all of the books seem to be of a similar “quality.” (One book, the posthumously published Death on the Rocks, 1961, does have an African setting to distinguish it.)


   While unquestionably lower-rung Spillane imitations (like Mike Hammer, Rocky Steele smokes Luckies, packs a .45, refuses the advances of his lovely secretary, has a loyal police contact, etc.), the West novels are goofily readable, as Rocky Steele teeters between the violence and revenge of Hammer, and the broads and campiness of Shell Scott.

   The world West creates (actually, re-creates) is pure pulp fantasy, and makes the work of Carroll John Daly read like documentaries. The energetic pulpiness of the plots, and West’s confident, tin-ear, tough-guy dialogue (“Mercy! That rat didn’t know what the word meant, and I wasn’t gonna teach him.”) gives his private-eye stories the same sort of appeal as Robert Leslie Bellem’s Dan Turner tales and Michael Avallone’s later Ed Noon novels.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.