Sunday, February 08, 2015

Harry Whittington was a cool cat

My recent introduction to Harry Whittington has included A Night for Screaming, A Ticket to Hell, and, best and most recently, Any Woman He Wanted.

Others have done what Whittington did in that book, but Whittington did it better. His embittered good guy is more embittered and more good. The revenge his protagonist exacts is more chilling.

The stock scene where the hero finds a naked or barely clothed woman in his room? Whittington does that better than anyone else, in part because I don't know anyone who could write dangerous, sordid sex scenes as well as Whittington does here, and the characters keep most of their clothes on.

But Any Woman He Wanted is more than just atmosphere. Whittington could plot, and some of the twists here surprised me.  I don't know where this novel ranks with hardcore Whittingtonians. Its odd ending might keep some from ranking it near the top. But Whittington integrates the ending smoothly into what had gone before, and what went before was enough to make the novel the best I've read in this young year.

(Read Woody Haut's Whittington retrospective at the 280 Steps Web site.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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12 Comments:

Blogger new improved gorman said...

Back when I edited the first two Black Lizard anthologies (early 1990s) I got Harry's phone number and gave him a call. I told him I wanted to reprint a couple of his stories. He sent me about sixty of them. I got to know him over the course of six or seven long phone calls. Very nice guy and very happy that Barry Gifford was reprinting several of his novels. Thanks for this post.

February 08, 2015  
Blogger Bill Crider said...

Harry was indeed a really nice guy. I wonder about the history of ANY WOMAN HE WANTED since it was originally published by Beacon under his Whit Harrison pseudonym. Maybe it was intended for a better market but didn't sell there.

February 08, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

New improved Gorman? Is that the same make and model as Ed Gorman?

I've read and enjoyed Whittington's recollections of life as a writer. I also think it would have been nice had he written more Mike Ballard books. Thanks to Barry Gifford, Black Lizard 280 Steps, and all the fine contemporary writers who wrote new introductions to Whititngton's books.

February 09, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Bill, ANY WOMAN HE WANTED just blew my socks off. Ed Gorman's introduction to the new 280 Steps edition of the novel suggests that the book did not have a straightforward publishing history. Too bad; it's a tremendous book.

Again, no shock after reading his recollections that he turned to have been a nice guy. He came across as good-humored, level-head, a real mensch.

February 09, 2015  
Blogger Bill Crider said...

My memories are vague, but this might be the book that Harry told me was written as a sequel to BRUTE IN BRASS and rejected by Gold Medal.

February 09, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Bill, that is more or less the story that Ed tells in his introduction, expressing amazement that Gold Medal had rejected the book. I share that amazement.

February 09, 2015  
Blogger Bill Crider said...

Okay, maybe my memory's not failing, after all.

February 09, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Bill: Here's part of what Gorman wrote in that introduction:

"As [David Laurence] Wilson notes Mike Ballard, the angry and brutal lead in this novel first appeared in one of Whittington’s finest novels, BRUTE IN BRASS. Apparently there was some thought about making Ballard a series character but ultimately the plan was dropped when his editor at Gold Medal rejected the follow-up novel. ...

"This is a swift, angry, melancholy novel, another appearance of the Whittington protagonist described in Wilson’s fine piece. The mystery here is why Gold Medal rejected it.
"

February 09, 2015  
Blogger Bill Crider said...

I re-read this one tonight. Great stuff. My bet would be that the ending is different from the original manuscript. The last few paragraphs just don't ring true at all.

February 11, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Bill, my post danced deliberately around the question of the ending. That ending is so odd, and so at odds with what had gone before, that I almost literally laughed. I can imagine Whittington rolling his eyes at the joke.

Meanwhile, I read Brute in Brass last night. I liked is a lot, but Any Woman He Wanted remains my favorite four-plus books into my career as a Whittington reader.

February 11, 2015  
Blogger Bill Crider said...

I wonder if Beacon demanded endings like that. It's so odd that it's as if Whittington didn't even write it. I'd love to see his original ending for the book.

February 12, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

We must keep that in mind as a topic for future discussion. It could open the way a consideration of social mores at the time and of the practices at various publishing houses. I wonder if the original ending exists. But as weird as the published ending is, what went before is so good, that anyone reading this should read the novel.

February 12, 2015  

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