Friday, February 07, 2020

Forgotten Books: Dead Horse - Walter Satterthwait

I first encountered the work of Raoul Whitfield in the great 1967 anthology THE HARDBOILED DICKS, which included one of his Jo Gar stories published in BLACK MASK under the pseudonym Ramon Decolta. I’ve read other stories by Whitfield over the years, as well as his novel GREEN ICE, and enjoyed all of them. I didn’t know about the mysterious suicide—or was it?—of Whitfield’s second wife, beautiful heiress Emily Vanderbilt, until Bill Crider reviewed Walter Satterthwait’s novel about the case, DEAD HORSE, several years ago. Did I say several years? Try a little more than twelve years! Man, time flies, doesn’t it?

But ever since reading Bill’s review, I’ve wanted to read Satterthwait’s novel, and as it turns out, Stark House is going to be reprinting it in the very near future, so you can read it, too. It’s a dandy, as you’d expect from Satterthwait, who’s a consistently fine writer.

Original edition (2006)
Whitfield was one of the most successful of the early hardboiled writers, publishing prolifically in the pulps and enjoying considerable success with his novels. When he married his second wife, Emily Vanderbilt, they moved to a ranch called Dead Horse outside Las Vegas, New Mexico, and lived the high life there as Whitfield’s ability to write, or at least his willingness to write, dried up. That, along with his wandering eye, caused trouble between the couple, and they separated. Then Emily died of what was ruled a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

All that is factual, and presented with Satterthwait’s usual meticulous research. The fiction comes in as he uses flashbacks to fill in the details of the relationship between Whitfield and Emily, and then, following her death, he invents the character of the local sheriff who investigates the case, a man who has a tragedy of his own in the past.

Satterthwait’s prose is as smooth as can be, and his dialogue and characters are vivid and compelling, making DEAD HORSE a great pleasure to read. It flows right along, and if not everything is wrapped up in a neat, pretty bow, well, neither is life. This is a very good book, and the Stark House edition includes the usual fine introduction by Rick Ollerman, who writes about hardboiled fiction and authors as well as anybody around these days. I give DEAD HORSE a high recommendation, and I’m glad Stark House is bringing it back into print.


Walker Martin said...

As James points out, Goulart's THE HARDBOILED DICKS is a great anthology of tough stories from BLACK MASK, DIME DETECTIVE, and DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY. Back in the 1960's it got me interested in collecting all three of these magazines. I believe I have the 2006 edition of DEAD HORSE around somewhere but I've misplaced it. We all need to support Stark House so I'll order it anyway.

James Reasoner said...

THE HARDBOILED DICKS was certainly a great influence on me and is one of my all-time favorite books. I knew what the pulps were before I read it, but it really made me a fan of hardboiled detective yarns. Before that, I'd read Mike Shayne and Donald Lam/Bertha Cool novels, but that was about it for my experience in the genre.