I don’t know about you, but when I pick up a paperback from 1957 and it’s got a beautiful blonde on the cover and the hero’s name is Dex Nolan . . . well, I think, “This is my kind of book.” That reaction isn’t always right, of course. Just because a hardboiled crime novel was published in the Fifties doesn’t make it good. But the odds are that I’ll enjoy it, and in this case, my instincts were right on the money.
You really have to be a longtime fan of this stuff to recognize the name Floyd Mahannah. He wrote only a half-dozen or so novels, but he was a prolific author of hardboiled short stories and novelettes, many of them published in the iconic digest magazine MANHUNT.
THE GOLDEN WIDOW finds former cop Dex Nolan in a tough spot as the story opens. Having left the police force to operate a gold mine in Arizona, he’s just lost the property in a lawsuit over unpaid taxes. So he’s broke and at loose ends, and when a former girlfriend shows up asking him to help her because she’s being blackmailed, you know Dex is going to say yes. You also know that his decision is going to wind up landing him in a lot of trouble, and of course you’d be right. It seems that the former girlfriend’s husband has been murdered, and while she has an alibi for that killing, she’s up to her neck in other assorted troubles. Dex, acting like a private eye even though he’s not one officially, locates the blackmailer, and sure enough, that guy winds up dead in short order, too. That’s just the start of it, though. You get gangsters, drug smuggling, a suitcase full of loot, the cops chasing Dex for murders he didn’t commit, shootouts in the desert, and more double- and triple-crosses than you can keep up with. Dex takes a lot of punishment in this book, both physical and emotional, before the final twist comes barreling down on him and the reader.
Ultimately, you may spot the killer in this one – I did – but the fun in reading it is in Mahannah’s tough-minded prose and the classic Fifties setting. THE GOLDEN WIDOW is kind of a generic novel, but I mean that in a good way, in that it’s a prime example of the sort of book that I grew up reading and enjoying. I’ll probably get around to reading the rest of Mahannah’s novels. I have another one on hand and hope to get to it soon.