Ed Lacy's 1959 Zenith Books novel BLONDE BAIT has a great opening: our narrator, charter boat skipper Mickey Whalen, finds a beautiful blonde on a deserted island in the Florida Keys, alone except for a gun and a suitcase full of cash. If you can resist the temptation to find out what happens from there, you're made of stronger stuff than I am.
For a while it looks like Mickey has had a real stroke of luck, but if you've read many of these novels you know it's not going to last. Sure enough, trouble from the past crops up to plague our hero and the beautiful and mysterious Rose, and Mickey has to turn detective to sort everything out and try to come up with a happy ending for the two of them.
Wherever you think this book is going, though, there's a really good chance that where it winds up is a whole other place. And that's why, even though I'm doing this as a Forgotten Books post, I can give BLONDE BAIT only a qualified recommendation. The whole explanation for what's behind the plot just doesn't ring true to me, and Lacy's thinly-disguised political rants don't help matters. A good ending might excuse all of this, but we don't get that, either.
What makes BLONDE BAIT worth reading is the first half, where Lacy fills in the narrator's back-story with a freewheeling mix of flashbacks that work very well and are a nice change of pace from the usual straight-ahead narrative drive of hardboiled crime novels. Mickey Whalen is a likable protagonist, too, and you can't help but root for him. Like some of Orrie Hitt's protagonists, even when he thinks he's being a heel, he's a pretty decent guy at heart and wants to do the right thing if he can just figure out what it is. And even though the book falls apart in the second half, you still have to sort of admire Lacy for the chances he takes, whether they work or not.
So there's my mixed opinion of BLONDE BAIT. Don't rush out to look for a copy, but if you come across one for a reasonable price, it's probably worth picking up. If nothing else, it's a Zenith Book, and you don't see very many of those these days.