|Vintage Pulp||Oct 13 2023|
That bimbo has no idea she can't get hair dye here. When her roots grow out we'll see if men still think she's so amazing.
We have other Wade Miller books to read, but we picked up this copy of 1960's Jungle Heat and moved it to the head of the line because the story is set in Malaya (now Malaysia), and the last book we read that the authors (Bob Wade and Bill Miller writing together under a pseudonym) set in an exotic country was phenomenal. Jungle Heat was originally published in 1954 under the name Dale Wilmer, with this reattributed Pyramid edition coming a bit later, and it finds Miller taking on the unexpected challenge of writing in first person from a woman's point-of-view. The lead character is Hollywood b-actress Roxy Powell, who is sent to Malaya with a small crew to shoot background footage for an upcoming jungle adventure. Never mind that a communist revolution is brewing. What Hollywood wants, Hollywood gets.
Plantation boss Llewelyn Kirk, under whose roof Roxy and the crew are residing, is one of those characters who's colonial through-and-through but thinks that because he's been in Malaya for twenty years he isn't an invader and knows what's best for locals. Since the authors agree with this paternalistic sentiment, the narrative is steered—to an almost ludicrous extent—toward Kirk being correct. We won't get into any of it except to say that, generally, anti-communist fiction from the mid-century era was unavoidably propagandist. In this case the authors are basically correct in their regional political analysis, but gloss over important details and whiff on overarching points. For example, there's an interesting scene where a Malayan tells Kirk that he'd heard blacks in America are unjustly killed by whites. Kirk assures him it isn't true. We almost did a spit-take on that one.
Roxy first hates, then by a circuitous path, comes to adore Kirk. She's initially driven by her need for “respect,” which here doesn't mean respect as normally understood, but is instead code for sexual desirability. Because Kirk ignores her, she hates him. Therefore she embarks on a campaign to discover his humanity—i.e. his sexual attraction to her. Even if you didn't know the author, that's when you might suspect a guy—or two—was in the driver seat. Okay, so if the politics take liberties and the justification for romance is male fantasy in disguise, is the book any good? Well, sure. There's a nice jungle setting, a fun Hollywood sidebar, a backdrop of war in which enemies circle ever closer, a traitor hiding in the fold, and love blossoming amid chaos. With all that going for it, the book has to be good. But that said, Wade/Miller definitely wrote better.