Friday, October 13, 2017

Forgotten Books: Never Say No to a Killer - Clifton Adams

I’ve read quite a few Western novels by Clifton Adams and enjoyed them all. NEVER SAY NO TO A KILLER is the first of his handful of crime novels that I’ve read, and it’s no surprise that I think it’s very good, too. Originally published under the pseudonym Jonathan Gant as half of an Ace Double, it’s being reprinted by Stark House Press as part of the excellent Black Gat Books line. I’m getting lazy (and short on time), so here’s the publisher’s description:

When Roy Surratt busts out of jail, he only has two things going for him: faith that his former cellmate, John Venci, will keep his promise to help him stay clear of the cops, and the supreme confidence in his own intelligence. After all, Roy knows he's got what it takes to succeed. And no one had better get in his way. So it comes as some surprise that the person who meets him after his breakout isn't Venci, but Venci's wife, Dorris. He didn't figure on having to deal with a woman. But he soon finds out that Venci is dead, that Dorris is sitting on a sweet blackmail scheme, and that he can have this town in his back pocket if he can just stay cool enough to take Venci's place. But Roy doesn't figure on Pat Kelso, girlfriend of his first mark. He has no idea how quickly the best laid plans can unravel.

What really made this book work for me is the pace. Adams was a real master at plotting his books so that one event flows naturally into another, and even though NEVER SAY NO TO A KILLER isn’t non-stop action, there’s always something happening to drive the narrative forward. Even when the protagonist stops now and then to ponder about philosophy, there’s always the sense that more trouble is lurking. This is a skillfully written book with a very effective air of impending doom. The narrator may be fooling himself, but he’s not fooling us.

It’s hard to go wrong with a Western by Clifton Adams, and clearly that extends to his crime novels as well. I think I have all of them, and I need to read another one soon. I give this one a high recommendation.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I have read a couple of his Westerns, though I'd no idea he'd written crime novels too.

August West said...

I enjoyed this one also. My favorite non-western by him is GMs "Death's Sweet Song." Recently I obtained a HC edition of "The Long Vendetta" under the pseudo. Jonathan Gant. I liked it a lot.

The Black Gat Books line needs to up it's game on the cover art. The original ACE paperback cover blows theirs out of the water.

Tom said...

Loved this book! Thanks for reminding me to read more of his work.

Chap O'Keefe said...

Clifton Adam's WHOM GODS DESTROY and DEATH'S SWEET SONG, plus several of his Westerns, were once freely available as ebooks, along with NEVER SAY NO TO A KILLER, on a website that has unfortunately disappeared. None of them were offers to pass by!

Ron Clinton said...

Loved DEATH'S SWEET SONG and, to a slightly lesser degree, WHOM THE GODS DESTROY. I didn't realize he had other crime novels under a penname, so am very excited about this new reprint.

Richard Moore said...

I really like Adams crime novels. There is another hard to find novel under his Jonathan Gant byline: The Long Vendetta (Avalon 1963). The plot is quite interesting unusual for 1963--a vendetta triggered by wartime events. Buck Coyne wakes up in a hospital room after a driver sideswipes him as he gets out of a car. He survives but learns from a police lieutenant he believes the driver who hit Coyne was a professional assassin.

Back home, in his mail is an anonymous note: "Now you must pay for those you murdered in Ubach." Back in the closing days of WWII, Coyne was a US Army sergeant in command of a tank. Near Ubach, Germany, his tank was advancing and they a small cottage in a perfect location for a Nazi spotter. At his command, the tank crew blasts the cottage with cannon and machine gun fire.

The scene is replayed in recurrent nightmares as Coyne remembers what he found inside the wrecked cottage. "But there was no spotter. No radio, no glasses, no man at all. Just a few bloody odds and ends of what had been a woman, and the frail, white body of a little girl."

In a second meeting with the police, Coyne learns that the other two surviving members of the tank crew had been murdered recently, after they also had received identical anonymous notes.

Chris said...

I've read this and a few other of Adams' books--great that you can read him again without shelling out for old paperbacks.

Donald Westlake really admired his western novel, The Desperado (probably the best thing Adams ever wrote), intimated it might have been a seminal influence on him. That really is a hard-boiled crime novel, set in the old west--and a damn good one. Charles Willeford obviously read it too, since his western novel (The Hombre From Sonora/The Difference) is a clear rewrite of it--and arguably a little better than Adams' book. Which is high praise. Both stories are about a decent young man finding a side to himself he didn't know was there, with the help of an old outlaw and gunfighter. The difference (heh) is how each reacts to that revelation.

His crime novels are good, atmospheric, fast-moving, but maybe a bit derivative of Horace McCoy. The idea of creating a cunning criminal sociopath (but not as smart as he thinks) that you can identify with started with McCoy's Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, I'd argue--this book is a variation on that theme. Though it took Patricia Highsmith to come up with one who would keep surviving the consequences of his diabolical machinations.