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Still The King – Harry Whittington

They called him ‘The King of the Pulps.’ He wrote over two hundred novels during his career, 85 in a 12 year span, and 7 in one month. His productivity was astonishing, but it’s the quality of his writing that sets him apart. Even after his death in 1989, Harry Whittington is still the king.

fires-that-destroyWho?

Exactly. Like many, that was my reaction the first time I heard the name Harry Whittington. Having read mysteries for years, I’d never heard of, or even come across, his name. A fact I find somewhat embarrassing. How could I have missed one of the best? Recently, his name popped up on a blog post or two and a couple of different books mentioned him. Each writer commented on the Whittington’s greatness. With such ringing endorsements, I had to give a book of his a try and see if he merited such great accolades.

He did.

I started with A Night For Screaming and enjoyed it a great deal. I moved on to Fires That Destroy and liked it even more. Halfway through Fires That Destroy, Whittington had me hooked.

Whittington’s writing is marked by a few things: 1) Brevity- Most of his books clock in under 200 pages, although this does nothing to diminish his ability to tell a story. This happened to be a necessity of the time in which he wrote; 2) Diversity- His crime novels span the genre- the police detective, the man on the run, the ordinary man facing unbelievable odds, and the woman who makes a mistake, just to name a few; 3) Tension- That should be tension with a capital T. If Whittington is known for anything, it’s his ability to start the tension high and keep ratcheting it up page after page.

So far, I’ve managed to read a half-dozen of his books:

  • A Night For Screaming – A man is on the run for a crime he didn’t commit. He gets off the train in a small town and finds work on a farm while trying to avoid the police. The owner of the ranch involves the man on the run in a scheme that will help them both. Nothing goes according to plan.
  • Fires That Destroy – A homely woman kills her boss for the money. She then meets a man more handsome than she could imagine and they get married. Once married, Mr. Right turns out to be Mr. Wrong. Can she kill again? (This might be my favorite so far)
  • You’ll Die Next – Let’s just say this is the epitome of the day from hell. Gorgeous wife, great life, and when you open the door a total stranger attacks you. The day only gets worse.
  • Brute in Brass (Ballard #1) – Mike Ballard is a cop on the take. The higher ups are closing in on him. Is there any good left in Ballard?
  • Any Woman He wanted (Ballard #2) – Ballard wants nothing more than to do his job and go home, but everyone from the honest law enforcement types to the crooked cops want him back in the game on their side. Can Ballard find his own way without becoming a pawn in the hands of others? (Related question: Why aren’t there more Ballard books? Great character!)
  • A Ticket To Hell – A ex-con on a job lets his conscience get the better of him. When he intervenes against his better judgement, all hell ensues.

A number of Whittington’s books have gone out of print, but a few publishers are bringing them back. You can find e-book copies for under six bucks, which is a treat for fans of noir and great writing. Harry Whittington was a master of his craft, and he remains ‘The King of the Pulps.’

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