If you frequent this little corner of the blogosphere, you can’t have missed the resurgence of interest in the work of Orrie Hitt over the past couple of years. Probably nobody has read more of Hitt’s novels during that time than Michael Hemmingson, and certainly no one has written more about Hitt’s work than he has, having started an entire blog devoted to the subject. So there’s probably no one more qualified to write an Orrie Hitt pastiche novel than Hemmingson, which is exactly what he’s done in THE TROUBLE WITH TRAMPS, recently published by Black Mask Books.
Set during the Fifties, the era during which most of Hitt’s best books were published, THE TROUBLE WITH TRAMPS is narrated by Jack Card, the sort of working man/would-be writer/part-time heel that Hitt often used for his protagonists, right down to the six-foot-two, hundred-and-ninety-pound physical description. Jack is involved with three women: his wife Kay, with whom he’s trapped in a seemingly loveless marriage; teenage tramp Lucy, who’s pregnant by him; and Eve, the beautiful, amoral woman who’s married to a rich, much older husband. Jack really isn’t a bad guy, but he’s made some bad choices that keep getting him deeper and deeper in trouble.
If you’ve read even a few Orrie Hitt novels, you’ll recognize several of his favorite plot elements in the previous paragraph. Hemmingson doesn’t stop there, either. There’s also a peeping tom, a murder plot, a little social commentary, and some stuff about the publishing business. No lesbianism or hunting camps, though.
I think for a pastiche novel to work, it not only has to echo the work of the original author but also possess some strengths of its own. THE TROUBLE WITH TRAMPS succeeds on that score. The prose is lean and punchy, even more so than Hitt’s, and the story races along very effectively. Heel that he is at times, you can’t help but root for Jack, and while a familiarity with Hitt’s work certainly increased my appreciation of this book, I think most readers who enjoy Fifties-era hardboiled sleaze would enjoy it even if they’d never read anything by Hitt. THE TROUBLE WITH TRAMPS doesn’t quite have the same level of raw passion that Hitt brought to his work, but if you’re a fan there's a good chance you'll like it.