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.
Forgotten Hits: June 24th
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