Richard Deming had a long career as a mystery writer, starting in the Fifties with hardboiled private eye novels featuring a character named Manville Moon and dozens of stories that appeared in the crime and detective digests, including some of the Mike Shayne novellas published in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE under the Brett Halliday house-name. During the Sixties and Seventies he was a specialist in movie novelizations and TV tie-in novels under his own name and several pseudonyms. This is how I first became aware of him, because I read his Green Hornet novel THE INFERNAL LIGHT, written under the name Ed Friend, and his Mod Squad novels, written under his own name. Later I read his Starsky and Hutch tie-ins written as Max Franklin. (I was disappointed in the S&H books because they were novelizations of TV episodes I had already seen, rather than original novels based on the series, as Deming’s Mod Squad books had been.)
KISS AND KILL is narrated by Sam Carter, a con man turned murderer who specializes in a lonely hearts racket, marrying widows or spinsters and then knocking them off for their money. His partner in these schemes is a beautiful young woman named Mavis, who pretends to be Sam’s sister but is really his lover. They met when she, as an aspiring con artist, targets him as a mark without realizing that he’s a lot shadier than she is. Sam sets her straight, takes her under his wing, and soon they’re partners, quickly graduating from bunco jobs to murder for profit. They even get married along the way. Then, after several years together, they launch a scam that will turn out to be their most twisted and dangerous yet.
Deming’s writing is great, as lean and fast and hard as a bullet, and Sam Carter’s jovial, matter-of-fact evil is downright chilling. The reader never knows how much to trust what Sam is saying, and there’s no telling where the dark paths these characters go down are going to lead. I don’t know if Deming tried to sell this book to Gold Medal, but it’s every bit as bleak as anything that iconic imprint ever published. If you’re a fan of noir crime fiction, I give KISS AND KILL a high recommendation.