Friday, July 26, 2019

Forgotten Books: The Twisted Mistress - Ennis Willie

The telegram finally caught Tagger on a dismal morning-after in a New Orleans brothel.

That’s the opening line in Ennis Willie’s excellent hardboiled mystery novel THE TWISTED MISTRESS, published in 1963 by Merit Books and, to my knowledge, never reprinted. And if you can read that and not feel compelled to keep flipping the pages, you’ve got more self-control than I do.

Tagger is Lash Tagger (Willie’s protagonists always had great names). Years earlier, as a runaway from the orphanage where he was raised, Tagger was taken under the wing of Alex Beaumont, a textile mill owner who had worked his own way up from hardship to riches. Beaumont has a son and daughter of his own, but Tagger almost becomes like a son to him as well, until a falling-out between them causes Tagger to take off on his own when he’s a young man.

Now several years have passed and Tagger is broke, but the telegram changes all that. Beaumont is dead, and Tagger has to return to the town where the mill is located for the reading of the will. When he gets there, he finds that not only has he inherited a third of Beaumont’s fortune, but Beaumont has given him control of the business as well and charged him with preventing the takeover of the mill by a ruthless competitor. Needless to say, Beaumont’s grown children don’t like this arrangement at all. The situation becomes even more complicated and dangerous when Tagger discovers that Beaumont was murdered, and when he starts poking around in that, somebody paints a target on his back, as well.

Oh, and there are three or four beautiful women involved, too, all of whom are attracted to Tagger whether they want to be or not, and some of whom probably can’t be trusted . . . but I probably didn’t have to tell you that.

THE TWISTED MISTRESS is just an enormous amount of fun for a fan of hardboiled, slightly sleazy crime and mystery novels from the early Sixties. Willie’s prose is so smooth and fast-paced that it’s a joy to read and you wind up flying through the pages. There was a time I would have read this in one sitting, I’m sure, and even though I can’t do that now because I don’t have as much time to read, I still got through it quickly. Lash Tagger is plenty tough, not exactly likable but certainly easy to root for. Maybe the women all fall for him a little too quickly and easily, maybe the plot could have used one more twist, but that doesn’t matter because this is a book designed to be gulped down. I wish I could tell you to go out and buy a copy, but like I said above, it’s never been reprinted and like all Ennis Willie books, it’s a little hard to come by and a little pricey if you do. But if you ever see a copy, my advice is to grab it.

By the way, I realize the cover says TWISTED MISTRESS, but the spine and the title page add THE, so that’s the title I went with. And unlike the titles of some of the books of this type from this era, the title actually does have something to do with the story. The cover also says “Adult Reading”, but don’t let that fool you. There’s sex in it, but very tame and mostly off-screen.


Jerry House said...

I worry that, when I die, I will not be allowed into Paperback Reader's Heaven because I have never read Ennis Willie.

James Reasoner said...

It's not too late! Both of the Ramble House collections featuring Sand, Ennis Willie's most famous character, are still available on Amazon.

EA said...

There's no goodie like an old goodie. Thanks, James!

Anonymous said...

Back in the 1980’s I read Max Allan Collins’s rave review of Ennis Willie’s And Some Were Evil in Bill Pronzini’s monolithic review collection, 1001 Midnights.
There and then I knew I had to have all of Willie’s books.

But all these years later, I still don’t have them all.

John Hocking

Rittster said...

James, as you said, the Ennis Willie originals are very difficult to find. And even more difficult to afford. Where’d you pick yours up and how much did it set you back?

James Reasoner said...

I got it from some seller on With postage it was 15 or 16 bucks, not bad for an Ennis Willie.

Todd Mason said...

ARGH. I was doing the FFB too fast on Friday, and managed to miss this one. Mea maxima culpa. Very sorry.

James Reasoner said...

Not a problem, Todd. I forget more than I remember, these days.