|Vintage Pulp||Jul 17 2021|
It's a dog sucker dog world out there. Or something along those lines.
It's been more than a year since we read anything from the prolific Orrie Hitt, and that's too long, for though he may not be a literary master, he's always interesting. In 1957's The Sucker, a tough and amoral hustler named Slade Harper gets involved in an auto parts business, decides to cut out the owner, and bed his beautiful business partner as a bonus. Pretty soon Harper and the femme fatale are in the plot together, but the owner of this automotive concern may not be quite as gullible as he seems, and it's not so clear who's the sucker and who's the suckee. Wait, that's wrong. Would it be a... sucker and a sucked? A sucker and a suckered?
Doesn't matter. The point is Hitt's tale of round robin cons is better than usual for him. It's impressively hard-boiled, basically an attempt to channel James M. Cain, and not a bad one, all in all. Hitt often wrote ridiculous sleaze but this is solidly in the crime category, with a bit of kinkiness mixed in just so you know he hasn't gone soft. Erm... so to speak. The one aspect of The Sucker we didn't like were the portentous chapter endings that popped up at regular intervals. Here's an example where Slade Harper is about to do the nasty with a disabled beauty to whom he's taken a shine:
“It's alright,” I said, staring at the metal wheelchair. “I won't be sorry at all.”
And I wasn't.
Here's another one, with a different woman:
“Wait for me,” I said.
“At my place?
“You know where.”
“I know where,” she whispered.
And she did.
It's just a stylistic flourish, a way of ending each chapter with emphasis, but it still feels like overkill. However, in his career Hitt had some misses, so we have to call this one a triumph, considering his spotty oeuvre. The book also has one of the more striking covers you'll find on a Hitt novel, painted by Warren King, whose work verges on impressionistic, particularly in the patch of grass his two figures have chosen to recline upon. Those wheat yellows and sky blues are beautifully combined. He's really grown on us, and if Hitt can maintain at least the level of writing he does here in The Sucker, so will he.