Sunday, April 15, 2018

Another Poor Victim Falls for the Wrong Woman in this Classic Pulp Novel

This is a hardboiled novel from 1955, in which the protagonist, Joe Hooper, falls into the classic noir spiral from which hardly any man ever recovers. Hooper owns a gas station and a rundown motel in a small town in Oklahoma. The tourists only stay at his place when all the good motels are full, and even though he only has five cabins, he's never yet had to hang out the "No Vacancy" sign.

Hooper's in something of a relationship with a good woman, and most of the people in town, including his own father, expect him to marry her. But Hooper isn't really happy in the relationship; he's about to lose his business to the bank; he's at loose ends, and he has no idea what he's going to do. And then, of course, as in every novel of this type, SHE shows up.

In this case, SHE is Paula, the sexy, sultry wife of a guy named Karl Sheldon. The couple shows up to buy gas and to rent a cabin, and from the moment Hooper sees the woman through the windshield of her Buick, he's done for. Prowling around the Sheldons' cabin that night, he hears them planning the robbery of a local factory. Hooper insists on cutting himself into the plan, mainly so that he can get next to Paula, and in an instant, he's in so deep that he'll never get out.

Things unfold from there as they usually do in a book like this, and even though anyone who's read many of these novels knows almost with certainty how it's going to end, it's a great ride. Paula Sheldon is the archetypal Hardboiled Bad Girl; Joe Hooper is the typical noir protagonist who's sucked into a trap he can't possibly escape, and the plot moves along swiftly from beginning to tragic end. A somewhat atypical theme in a novel like this is Hooper's relationship with his father, which helps set this book a bit above the standard for a mid-1950s Gold Medal pulp read. Black Curtain Press brought out a new edition of the book in 2013, and fans who enjoy this genre might well want to look for it.

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