ROBERT TERRALL. Kill Now, Pay Later (1960).

23 Mar


Terrall, author of a few dozen snappy tales under a handful of pen names (including, in the case of this book’s original release, “Robert Kyle”), labored as a “paperback writer” in a territory somewhere between obscurity and mild disrepute. He deserved better. And he got it, or something like it, with the republication in 2007 of this novel under the auspices of the Hard Case Crime imprint. Hard Case issues its titles between lurid soft covers of the sort used by the low-rent houses that published Terrall’s work back in the 1950s and 1960s. Yet the effect today, far from cheapening the content within, is to celebrate pulp writing as a serious craft that transcends the flimsy medium of its distribution. (Ironically enough, the new cover is trashier than the original one. Only the patina of nostalgia keeps the Hard Case image, at left, from having a rather “soft-core” look. The 1960 cover, sitting there at the bottom of this post, seems almost demure by comparison—much like the woman depicted on it.)

Kill Now comes midway in a five-book series about Manhattan-based private eye Ben Gates, and its initial gambit borrows from a notable entry in the pulp canon, “The Gutting of Couffignal,” a Continental Op story by Dashiell Hammett. Gates, like the Op in that adventure, leaves his urban habitat to perform the workaday task of guarding some wedding gifts at a fancy estate in the country. A theft, a killing, and a career-endangering episode of sleeping on the job together lead Gates on a chase that takes him back and forth between Westchester County and the Upper West Side—and from one fetching, eager, potentially deceitful female to the next.

KillNowCover2.jpgIn style, Terrall borrows from another paragon of pulp, Raymond Chandler. But while he follows in the path carved by Chandler, giving his hero-narrator a steady line of sardonic patter with which to keep things moving, Terrall has his own way of hopping and skipping along that artfully blazed trail. He doles out wit-laced prose with a lighter touch and on a leaner scale than Chandler ever achieved, even as he meets the latter’s goal of delivering at least one verbal treat on every page. Terrall also delivers a humdinger of a surprise at the end, a whipsaw twist that would be worthy of any better-known writer to whom one might compare him.

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Posted by on March 23, 2010 in American, Hard-Boiled, Novel


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