Friday, August 31, 2018

A Classic Noir Novel from Jada M. Davis

Jada M. Davis wrote two pulp novels in the 1950s. The first, One for Hell, was published by Gold Medal in 1952, and was then reprinted by Stark House in 2010 as part of their Noir Classics series. The main protagonist is a hustler named Willa Ree. Ree is a rough and clever man who is riding the rails while attempting to determine where he might land next. When the train stops in the booming oil town of Breton, Texas, Ree hops out of the boxcar and decides to look over the town.

Almost immediately, he senses its possibilities. Not long ago, Breton was a small town, but the population has now exploded as a result of the oil boom. It's rough, raw, and ripe for the picking. Soon after landing in town, Ree hooks up with Ben Halliday, who is one of the town leaders. Halliday would like to exploit the town's possibilities as well, but to his view the current chief of police is not compliant enough to maximize the graft for the town's leaders.

Halliday contrives to place Ree in the police department as the new chief of detectives. The plan is that Ree will gain control of the town's prostitutes, gambling dens and other vice, forcing the practitioners to pay a cut to Ree who will then pass most of the spoils up the chain to Halliday and his cohorts.

Ree is just the man for the job, except for the fact that he quickly proves to be too independent. The only person Ree is interested in is Willa Ree himself, and as he attempts to maximize his own opportunities, Breton may well be turned upside down and inside out.

If not a true pulp classic, this book is a good example of the hundreds of such novels that were published in the middle of the last century. There's plenty of violence; there's a lot of sex, although given the restrictions of the day, it's anything but explicit. Virtually everyone in the book is on the make in one way or another, and like a lot of pulp literature, this novel paints a pretty depressing picture of society as a whole. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who occasionally likes to dip into this genre.

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