Friday, January 11, 2013

Forgotten Books: Pandora's Box - Jack Pine

It's a set-up right out of a Gold Medal novel: A beautiful, amoral young wife. A brutal older husband. A strapping young hunting guide, greedy and not as smart as he thinks he is. A fortune in loot dating back to the Civil War. Classic stuff.

But PANDORA'S BOX isn't a Gold Medal by Gil Brewer or Charles Williams. It's not even a Beacon or a Midwood by Orrie Hitt. Instead it was written by someone using the pseudonym Jack Pine and published by Pendulum Books, a small Atlanta-based publisher in the late Sixties that specialized in sleaze novels. And if any book ever deserved the label "hardboiled sleaze", it's PANDORA'S BOX.

The Pandora in question is Pandora Lockwood, a beautiful redhead who seduces hunting guide Mike Dawson into helping her and her husband Nick recover a treasure buried in a collapsed mine shaft in the Idaho mountains. The plan is that once they have the loot, Dawson will kill Nick Lockwood and he and Pandora will share the money. That's just the beginning of the plot, though. A beautiful underage girl just out of reform school also figures in, as do a couple of hapless flunkies recruited to help dig out the treasure. Before you know it, everybody is scheming to kill everybody else and wind up in sole possession of the money, but before they can do that, they all have to have sex with each other, too.

This is a somewhat awkward amalgamation of noir novel and pornography, and the frustrating thing is that there's a pretty good novella buried among the exceedingly crude and graphic sex scenes. Handled differently, this could have been a Gold Medal, and a decent one, too, because "Jack Pine" could write. There are clever lines throughout, some groan-inducing puns reminiscent of the Western series Edge by George G. Gilman (Terry Harknett), and a surprising amount of black humor interspersed with all the bleak nihilism. Plus a twist ending that's not really surprising but is still effective.

I used to know who Jack Pine really was. I believe his name was Sherman Smith, or something like that. I can't find anything about him on the Internet now. But he wrote more than a dozen novels for Pendulum Books, all of them evidently with crime plots. Any recommendation I give to PANDORA'S BOX would have to be a qualified one – it certainly won't be to everybody's taste – but if I ever run across another novel by Jack Pine, I won't hesitate to pick it up.

8 comments:

Sean McLachlan said...

I haven't read the book but I'll bet the worst pun is the name "Lockwood"

Peter Brandvold said...

Oh, Deah Load, Mistuh Reasonahhh--this just sounds scandalous!

I wonder where I can acquire a copy.

Rose Wood

old guy rambling said...

I like your placement of this book in the well know, hardboiled sleaze, area. Gave me a smile when I read that. Might be fun to read.

Oscar said...

I've read a lot of this stuff over the years, but can't remember one author from another. Some were good writers and others sounded like they took parts from one book and added them to another just to make the page limit.

James Reasoner said...

Sean,
There are worse puns in the book, believe it or not.

Pete,
There used to be e-book editions of several Jack Pine novels on Amazon, but they don't seem to be there anymore.

Walker Martin said...

I see that abebooks.com has two copies for sale. Both for around $20.00 each.

Peter Brandvold said...

I wonder what happened to the ebooks. They have a preview but not the entire book. I'm assuming a copyright problem. I hope they iron it out.

Fred Rowe said...

I have all the Jack Pine Pendulum ebooks if anyone is interested.