Saturday, November 28, 2009

Wild Lovers - Orrie Hitt

This novel, a 1961 release from Kozy Books, is a typical Orrie Hitt yarn in some respects, but not in others. It’s a backwoods book, as you can probably tell from the cover, and sort of reminds me of some of Harry Whittington’s novels. It’s about the lives and loves of several people who come from a poor area in upstate New York known as Shanty Road. (There is, in fact, a sleaze novel by Whittington called SHANTY ROAD, published by Original Novels in 1954 under the Whit Harrison name. It would have made a good title for this book, too.)

Unlike the usual male protagonist you find in Hitt’s novels, the main character in WILD LOVERS is a young woman, Joy Gordon, who was orphaned at sixteen when a fire burned down the farm house where she lived with her parents, killing her mother and father. Left on her own, Joy moves into a shed that remains standing on the property and supports herself by selling eggs from the flock of chickens that’s almost her only possession of any value.

Almost, but not quite, because the property she inherited from her parents includes the only easy access to a lake which some developers want to turn into a hunting and fishing resort (another interest of Hitt’s). As the novel opens, though, the real estate agent in charge of the negotiations won’t meet Joy’s price. Actually, the agent is just trying to get her to go to bed with him, because in the five years since she was orphaned, she has grown up into a virginal, twenty-one-year-old beauty.

Helping out Joy is her neighbor, mechanic Pug Stark, who does meet the usual description of a big, burly Hitt hero. Pug comes from a real white trash family: his father refuses to work, and his sister is pregnant and has no idea who the father is. (Ah, the unwanted, unwed pregnancy, another favorite theme of Hitt’s.)

Then a stranger shows up, an artist from New York City whose family owns one of the properties along Shanty Road. He’s come up there to work and brought his beautiful mistress with him, and he’s a big, brawny guy, too. When he sees Joy, he immediately wants to paint a portrait of her – nude, of course – and his arrival changes everything, as Joy winds up juggling the three men who are interested in her, a neat reversal of the standard Hitt plot where the hero has to decide between three women.

That’s not the only twist that Hitt throws into the plot, as characters do things that take the reader by surprise and turn out not to be exactly what they appear to be at first. The ending won’t be any huge shock for Hitt fans, but it is pretty satisfying. The writing is good in this one, too, not quite as terse and hardboiled as in some of Hitt’s other books but with quite a few good lines.

WILD LOVERS is a good solid Orrie Hitt novel and very entertaining. If you haven’t read his work before, it would be a decent place to start, and if you have, you’ll want to read this one, too.


Frank Loose said...

Thanks for the review, James. Looks like another title i need to find. I just finished Dirt Farm, a Hitt that you reviewed recently. It was quite good. Hitt has a way of recycling his plots and themes, but in a way that makes each story stand on its own, and stand well. I have yet to read one of his books with the "reversal" you mentioned of focusing on the woman's perspective.

Another one i read recently that was a cut-above is Dial M for Man. Horrible title, but a terrific Beacon cover and a well written story. James Cain influence in evidence. Worth tracking down a copy.

Anonymous said...

James, where do you find your Orrie Hitt books? Do you have to buy them online? I have never seen one at Half Price or any of the used book stores I go to.


James Reasoner said...

All the Hitt novels I own I've bought on-line. Before the fire I owned only two Hitt novels (neither of which I ever got around to reading), and they were the only ones I ever saw in years of haunting used bookstores around here. Every now and then I see an old Beacon or Midwood by some other author in the Nostalgia section of Half Price, so a Hitt novel could show up there, but I'm sure not going to hold my breath waiting.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review, James. Sounds like a good one from OH. Kozy Books is a great tongue-in-cheek name for an "Adult Reading" publisher.

Ed Lynskey

Valerie said...

Hitt does the female and three men reversal in THE STRANGEST SIN under his female pen name, Kay Addams.

Anon: you can find plenty of Hitt titles on Abebooks,, Amazon, and eBay.