Saturday, April 11, 2009

Hot Cargo - Orrie Hitt

HOT CARGO is a very different sort of book from PUSHOVER, the first Orrie Hitt novel I read. It’s the story of Hank Storms, a tough American sailor working on a boat that’s dredging out a channel in the river flowing through a port city in a Pacific island nation that seems to be loosely based on the Philippines. At one time, Hank was the captain of the boat, but he’s been replaced and demoted because of an accident that occurred while he was in charge.

That’s not all he has going on, though. It seems that there was a recent coup in the island’s government, and Hank is also smuggling guns to the followers of the deposed leader, who plans to stage a counter-revolution. Plus there’s the mistress of the guy who replaced Hank as captain. She’s actually more interested in Hank, and doesn’t mind proving it. And the beautiful native girl he meets in a bar who claims to be a virgin. And the mistress of the island’s current dictator, who’s also involved in the counter-revolution. And Hank’s beautiful but estranged wife, who shows up unexpectedly with a suitcase full of money. Throw in a sinister Dutchman, drug smuggling, pornography, blackmail, a lot of boozing, and a hurricane, and you can see that Hitt’s packed a heck of a lot into this yarn.

And “yarn” is a good description of this book. It’s definitely larger-than-life, an updated version of the sort of story that might have appeared in the pulp SPICY ADVENTURE during the Thirties. As such, although it’s plenty gritty, it lacks some of the realistic edge that can be found in PUSHOVER. However, the style is faster-paced and has a really nice terse rhythm to it, making it a prime example of what I’ve started calling hardboiled sleaze. Hank is a fine character, tough and definitely amoral about 99% of the time . . . but there’s that one per cent when he finds that he does have a sort of code after all and has to do the right thing even though he doesn’t really want to.

Several fans of Hitt’s work have told me that this isn’t one of his better books, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. That’s just me, of course. I have a fondness for South Seas yarns to start with, and a story can’t get too pulpy for my taste. From what I’ve seen, HOT CARGO isn’t really typical of most of Hitt’s novels, and it’s true that the ending isn’t really all it could be (endings seem to be a bit of a problem for Hitt, from what I’ve read and what other readers have told me). But it’s one of those books that resonated with me, for whatever reason, and I’m certainly glad that I read it.


Anonymous said...

Sounds colorful and interesting, James. Thanks. BTW, who is the publisher of this "sleazy hard-boiled" (great category name)?

Ed Lynskey

James Reasoner said...

It's a Beacon Book, published in 1958. Hitt appears to have written more books for Beacon (and its successor imprint, Softcover Library) than any other publisher.

By the way, I'm working on an Orrie Hitt checklist that I plan to publish here on the blog eventually. I may have to break it down by years into several posts, since it would be awfully long if it was just one post.

Frank Loose said...

Sounds like a book to add to my Search List. Many days, what i need is an over-the-top story, and Hot Cargo sounds like it would fit the bill. Thanks for the review!