NAKED LUST was originally published by Bedside Books in 1959 and reprinted ten years later by Macfadden Books, which is the edition I read. It’s the story of Jane Smith, who is, for want of a better term, a middle-class prostitute. She’s not an expensive, high-class call girl, or a lowly, drug-addicted streetwalker, either. She travels from town to town with another prostitute and their pimp, a guy who has Syndicate connections. Not a great life, but Jane copes with it pretty well.
Then she’s arrested, for the first time since she became a hooker, and as part of her sentence, she’s sent to work in a mental hospital (which seems like sort of a stretch to me, but hey, we’ll let it go). While there, she’s befriended by one of the doctors and a couple of the nurses, and she decides she’s going to change her life and start over somewhere new. That turns out to be a small town in California, where she gets a job as a waitress and even meets a decent guy who falls in love with her, not knowing her sordid past, of course. This book practically screams “noir”, though, so you know things can’t stay that good for long, and sure enough, they don’t . . .
For years there’s been some debate over whether Harry Whittington actually wrote this book, because the copyright notice in the original edition is in his name. The notice in the Macfadden reprint, though, says “Copyright 1959 by Bedside Books Inc.” Having read a lot of Whittington books over the years, I decided to give this one a try and see if I could make an educated guess.
Having read it, I can say I’m 99.9% sure that NAKED LUST is NOT Harry Whittington’s work. The plot is certainly noirish enough, but nothing in the style reminds me of Whittington’s writing at all. If someone were to come up with something in Whittington’s records saying he wrote this novel, I’d accept it, but I’d sure be surprised, too. I think the copyright notice in the original edition was just a mistake on the part of the publisher.
That said, is NAKED LUST worth reading? Well, yeah. It’s not all that well-written for the most part, although there are some really nice lines here and there, but the author does a good job of creating an atmosphere of bleak inevitability that hangs over the novel. And the ending, in which everything doesn’t work out exactly like I expected it to (always a plus) is very powerful. I have no idea who Shep Shepard really was, but a year or two later this could have easily been a Nightstand Book and held its own with the entries by Block, Silverberg, Ramirez, etc. I imagine the original edition is pretty scarce, but if you ever come across a copy of it or the Macfadden reprint for a decent price, my advice is to grab it. This one’s well worth reading.
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