Friday, March 07, 2014

Forgotten Books: Pleasure Ground - Orrie Hitt

It had been a while since I'd read anything by our old pal Orrie Hitt, so I figured it was time. PLEASURE GROUND was published originally by Kozy Books in 1961. It's not one of the novels that's been reprinted in recent years, although it seems to me to be a good candidate.

Hitt wrote a number of books set on farms, including this one. Bert Forbes is a typical Hitt narrator/protagonist: a big galoot, not overly bright, not burdened with an excess of morals, but deep down a fairly decent guy. He's been hired by farmer Flint Collins to paint Collins's house and barn. Collins is a brutal skinflint who pays all his help cheaply and treats them badly, including his teenage daughter Norma. He's maybe the most despicable villain I've run across so far in Hitt's work.

Things seem to look up a bit for Bert when he meets beautiful Lucy Martin, who owns the farm next to the Collins place, and in true soft-core fashion he first encounters her when she's sunbathing nude next to a swimming hole in the local creek. But then Bert's sleazy ex-wife Emily shows up with a tragic story, and Collins, a widower, brings home a new wife, a beautiful, amoral bitch named Sharon, and things start to get very complicated and messy, including an unwanted pregnancy (a staple in Hitt's books), blackmail, and finally murder.

Read enough of Hitt's books and the nuts and bolts of his various formulas really start to show, and I've reached that point. However, even when you know what he's doing, he has a way of dragging you in and making you care what's going to happen to his characters. I think it's the sheer passion that he brought to his work. He believed in it, so the reader does, too. Although by all accounts he had a happy home life and a reasonably successful career, he knew the desperation of people pushed to the brink, sometimes by their own choices and sometimes by a cruel fate they can't control, and he conveyed those emotions with a lot of power.

PLEASURE GROUND is a good example of that. It's not without its flaws—it seems to me to go on a little too long, stretching out not quite enough plot for its wordage—but I certainly enjoyed it, all the way to the seemingly tacked-on happy ending that Hitt employed in most of his books. People have speculated that such endings were an editorial requirement, but I'm not so sure. I think Hitt believed in them, as much as in all the angst that comes before them. If you're a fan of his work, this one is well worth reading.

As a side note, another Hitt novel called PLEASURE GROUND was published two years earlier by Bedside Books, but I don't think it's the same novel. The description of it given by an Internet bookseller doesn't match the plot of the one I read except in its rural setting. But I've never seen a copy of the earlier book, only a scan of its cover, so I don't really know.

13 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I don't think I ever ran across this one in my years of haunting the thrift stores.

George said...

I wish I'd picked up more of Orrie Hitt's books when I was haunting those thrift stores like Bill did.

James Reasoner said...

For some reason I never saw Orrie Hitt books in the used bookstores. Plenty of other Beacons, Midwoods, even the occasional Nightstand, but none by Hitt. I'd never read one until a few years ago.

Todd Mason said...

Does Hitt work anything as obsessively as, say, Jim Thompson does incest? I haven't yet picked up any of Hitt's, but man, that cover certainly would've caught my eye at any time...less for the "compromising position" than for the utter gorgeousness of the female character portrayed (one hopes for her sake the model was so striking)--do we know the cover artist there? Perhaps Hitt's soft core novels were held onto a bit longer than most of their kin, hence their relative scarcity in the secondhand shops of the '70s and onward.

James Reasoner said...

I think Hitt's most common theme is unwed pregnancy. I think it's been at least mentioned in every book of his I've read. Sometimes it's an important part of the plot, sometimes it's just mentioned in passing, but it's always there. Also, the protagonist always gets involved to one degree or another with three different women in the course of a Hitt novel.

James Reasoner said...

Oh, and I don't have any clue who did the cover art. I agree, it's certainly striking.

Ron Clinton said...

Darn, I passed that on up recently, because I have the second PLEASURE GROUND you show, and figured they were one and the same. Oh well.

James Reasoner said...

Ron,
They may be the same book. I'm just going by the description of the Bedside Books edition by one seller on ABE, who may not be reliable at all. If anyone has a copy of that edition and wants to send me the first few paragraphs, we can compare it with the Kozy Books edition.

Ron Clinton said...

Bill, I checked the characters' names in my edition and they don't match those in your review. To confirm, my book starts with:

I didn't leave the shack until ten in the morning, carrying two ten quart pails. I started across the yard, walking through the weeds, and someone hollered at me.

"Hey, you!"

I stopped and waited for the bald-headed man who was coming down the road. His name was Payne and he was from the finance company.

...and the book goes on from there.

Ron Clinton said...

I'm now kicking myself for not picking the other book up, as I really like the cover on it, and, in fact, almost picked up the book just for it, though I'd believed that the book was a reprint. Live and learn.

I have you to thank for the Orrie Hitt kick I'm on now, James. Hadn't even heard of him until your blog brought him to my attention a year (or two?) ago, and now I have thirty of his titles. Yeah, his work is formulaic and hit and miss (to be generous), but when he's on, they're undeniably fun

James Reasoner said...

Definitely different books, then. Odd that they'd have the same title. It's not really that generic.

I'm pleased that I played a small part in the rebirth of interest in Hitt's work, although Brian Ritt, Greg Shepard, and Frank Loose did most of the heavy lifting in that effort, along with the late Michael Hemmingson.

Ron Clinton said...

I'm sorry to hear about Micheal; I wasn't aware that he had passed. If I'm not mistaken, he was the individual who had the http://orriehitt.wordpress.com/ and Those Sexy Vintage Sleaze Books blogs, both of which have reviews that I've found invaluable in separating the good Hitt from bad. A truly incredible resource, and his passion for Hitt's work infectious. I always wondered why the reviews and posts stopped back in 2012 (I think)...very sad to learn the reason why.

I know he penned a Orrie Hitt homage book...I still need to pick that up someday.

Sarah Hitt said...

Yes, Ron. That was Michael. He just passed in January. So sudden. One minute he's posting on FB about White Hat, the next everyone with condolences. He was actually created screenplays for a few of the Hitt novels and was very passionate nearly 20 would make great films. I'm sad that didn't get to happen for him. He also wrote the afterward in the recent 2-book reprint a couple years back. RIP Michael.