Friday, April 11, 2014
Forgotten Books: GREEN ICE by Raoul Whitfield (1930)
Over the past couple of years I've read (again) the complete adventures of The Continental Op (many of the later stories more than once) and my brain has become attuned to Hammett's first-person style. And as I've said many more times than once, Red Harvest is my all-time favorite book.
So I was mighty surprised to discover what I had obviously forgotten—that in Green Ice Raoul Whitfield was aping Hammett's style—and doing a dang good job of it.
The story first saw print as a 6-part serial in Black Mask, beginning in December 1929 (along with part 4 of the serialized Maltese Falcon). Though green ice provided the motive for most of the killings, it failed to get the title role. Instead, the serial was called "The Crime Breeders."
Our hero, Mal Ourney, is fresh out of prison, where he served a stretch for a crime he didn't commit. Being an honorable guy, he took the rap for his ladyfriend, and apparently did it without complaint. While in the big house he learned plenty about crime, and devised a mission—to bring down the folks he calls The Crime Breeders, the upper echelon crooks who infect others with the disease and start many an otherwise innocent soul on the road to ruin.
The Hammett flavor is there in the first scene, and sticks till the end. The first human Mal encounters on the outside is his old flame Dot—the one he did the stretch for—but he's over her and gives her the air. As Mal tells the story:
I turned my back and walked away. Dot kept right on yelling. She was using up a lot of her old words, and she contradicted herself twice in every sentence. It sounded to me like a lot of after-the-gin raving. I got self-sympathetic.
The cab door slammed. Her final words were to the point, but they weren't true. Jane Ourney had been a lot of grief to Sam Ourney, but I was their honest-to-god brat.
Foul-mouthed Dot is the first of many bodies to drop, and each one puts Mal in a deeper hole. While struggling to dig himself out, he runs afoul of a bunch of folk itching to get their hands on a pile of huge emeralds, and joins forces with a liberal-minded cop to sort out who killed whom and why.
I enjoyed Green Ice so much I immediately started rereading Whitfield's second mystery, Death in a Bowl. And guess what? I'd forgotten how good that one was, too. Stay tuned.