Monday, July 1, 2019

A Virginal Young Woman Finds Herself in Jeopardy in This Early Novel from Charles Willeford

Originally published in 1957, this book has all the hallmarks of a potboiler that Charles Willeford churned out relatively quickly, perhaps because the rent was coming due or some such thing. Willeford would later become known for a series of excellent crime novels, most notably, Miami Blues and others featuring a protagonist named Hoke Mosley. This book isn't nearly up to the standards of his later work and, for that matter, it isn't really a crime novel in the traditional sense. Rather it's a titillating piece of soft-core porn, constrained of course, by the literary standards of 1957.

Back in the Fifties, a number of writers, including people like Lawrence Block, were turning out lurid novels like this one, sometimes under their own names and sometimes using pseudonyms, for the spinning paperback book racks that were so common at the time. They most often featured very suggestive covers, hinting that all sorts of interesting and often twisted sexual activity was to be found within the pages, and a common theme of these books involved a beautiful, but innocent young woman--usually a virgin--who accidentally winds up traveling in the wrong company and who is unfortunately led down the path to a life of degeneracy.

Such is the case here. Maria Duigan is a young secretary from New York who has saved her money for almost a full year so that she and a girlfriend can afford a vacation to Miami Beach. Maria is looking for excitement and attracts the attention of Ralph Tone, an art student who is working for the summer as an elevator operator in the hotel where Maria and her friend are staying.

One of the hotel's owners is a Mr. McKay, and he has taken a shine to Ralph for some reason or other. He invites Ralph to spend an afternoon cruising on his yacht, and in an attempt to impress Maria, Ralph impulsively invites her to come along as his date. Much to poor Ralph's dismay, McKay will turn out to be a pimp and a pornographer and once he sets his eyes on the beautiful Maria, her innocence and virginity will be in serious jeopardy.

Over sixty years down the road, this book is perhaps best read as an historical artifact--a reminder of a time when things were more innocent and unsullied, or at least a time when a lot of people wished that they were. The story is a bit overwrought and the conclusion is practically foregone. This is not Charles Willeford at his best, but it's still a fun read.

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