Monday, September 18, 2023

Blood In Your Eye - Robert Patrick Wilmot

First of all, Steve Considine is a great name for a fictional private detective. I mean, just say it out loud: “Steve Considine, Private Eye.” With a name like that, what else could the guy be? A gunfighter in a 1950s Western paperback, maybe. But he really needs to be packing a gat and making his way down rain-wet, big city streets.

Which Steve Considine does in Robert Patrick Wilmot’s debut novel BLOOD IN YOUR EYE, published in hardback by Lippincott in 1952 and reprinted in paperback by Pocket Books in 1953. Steve, who narrates the book, isn’t a lone wolf private eye. He’s an operative for Confidential Investigations, which caters to wealthy, upper-crust clients. His boss is Mike Zacharias. As this book opens on a rainy day in New York, the agency is hired to make sure that the alcoholic scion of a rich family makes it to England all right, where he’s going to get a drying-out treatment from a fancy doctor. Steve is given the job of babysitting the lush until the next day, then accompanying him to England on a plane. But wouldn’t you know it? Before that can happen, the lush witnesses a murder and then disappears, and Steve has to find him before the killer can locate him and rub him out so he can’t spill his guts to the cops.

Naturally, there are some beautiful dames involved, two of them in fact: a rich blonde who’s in love with the drunk guy, and a gorgeous brunette who’s either a kindergarten teacher or a high-class call girl . . . or could she maybe be both? Steve also has to contend with a hired killer and various goons. In classic private eye fashion, he gets beaten up and knocked out more than once.

Then, three-quarters of the way through the book, the plot takes an abrupt left turn into a storyline that seems completely unrelated at first, but any veteran reader of PI novels is going to suspect that eventually everything will be tied together, and I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to tell you that’s exactly what happens, leading to a genuinely suspenseful climax.

Robert Patrick Wilmot made quite a splash, publishing three novels (all featuring Steve Considine) and half a dozen stories in MANHUNT and THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, all during a short stretch from 1952 to 1954, plus one last MANHUNT story in 1965. The books got good reviews and the stories were well-received. But then that was it for Wilmot’s writing career, for some reason unknown to me.

BLOOD IN YOUR EYE, which I read in the Pocket Books edition with a cover by James Meese, seems like a book that would be right up my alley. And at times it is. There are some good action scenes here and there and some nice tough-guy dialogue, but I have to be honest with you: I didn’t like this book very much. Steve Considine isn’t a very compelling protagonist and too much of the book just plods along. The plot seems too thin most of the way and then abruptly gets extremely complicated at the end. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a terrible novel, but I don’t get the critics’ comparisons to Raymond Chandler at all. Chandler had a much more interesting and entertaining voice than what Wilmot displays here.

I have the second book in the series, MURDER ON MONDAY, and there’s a good chance I’ll read it sooner or later . . . but there’s also a chance I may never get around to it, based on my disappointment with BLOOD IN YOUR EYE.


Sai S said...

Robert Patrick Wilmot was the alias of Robert Walter Wilmot Jr. (1904-1968). He was active in the American Communist Party for about 4 years in the 1930s but had resigned and was testifying against office holders by 1941. Worked as a newspaperman in Oregon. A little biographical info
about him here. It's possible that he was caught up in the anti-communist madness of the 1950s.

Though it's very likely that he had left the US by the mid or late 1940s for Britain; his second wife Elizabeth Montgomery was a famous British costume designer for theater and films and she returned to Britain in 1946. Elizabeth was the costume designer for Romeo and Juliet (1940s version with Vivien Leigh) and David Lean's Great Expectations and many Broadway productions.

James Reasoner said...

Thanks for this information, Sai. There's definitely some anti-communist stuff in this novel, but it's a lot more nuanced than in, say, Spillane's ONE LONELY NIGHT.

Steve said...

After my review of this book, some nine years ago, quite a few comments were left about the author, including one by Wilmot's son. I encouraged him to say more, but he never did.

James Reasoner said...

Thanks, Steve. Looks like we had somewhat of the same reaction to the book. It's frustrating because there's some good stuff in there, but I felt like he didn't quite nail it.