In a genre known for its often unlikable narrators/protagonists, SO I'M A HEEL fits right in. Ed Hawkins is a heel, all right. He's a World War II vet who got his lower jaw blown off in the South Pacific. It was replaced with a plastic prosthetic, but that still leaves Ed full of resentment over what happened to him. He comes home to a life with his wife and ten-year-old son in a small town in California and ought to be happy, but for one reason or another he can't hold a job, he's mean and sullen, and he blames everybody else for his troubles.
Then one day, the opportunity to blackmail one of the richest men in town practically falls into Ed's lap, and he seizes on it as the way out of all his troubles. But I think we all know things aren't going to work out that easily for Ed . . .
I used to have a copy of the Gold Medal edition of this book, but I never got around to reading it and had no idea who Mike Heller really was. Now I know the author is Arnold Hano, and the book is available again in the Stark House collection 3 STEPS TO HELL. That's good because it's a compelling novel with some really fine writing in it. It's a little offbeat for a Gold Medal because of some of its subject matter – saying any more than that would be too much of a spoiler – and because of its approach, which is decidedly low-key and realistic. There's crime in it – maybe – but it's not really a crime novel, more of an examination of just how low somebody can sink. And of how unsympathetic an author can make his leading character and still have the reader rooting for the guy.
Hano succeeds admirably in this, which makes for a very satisfying ending. SO I'M A HEEL is fast-paced, hardboiled, and paints a vivid picture of small-town life that can be both noble and sordid. Highly recommended.