Friday, January 19, 2018

Forgotten Books: NEVER SAY NO TO A KILLER by Clifton Adams (1956)

After reading my first Clifton Adams novels, the mighty fine The Desperado (HERE) and A Noose for the Desperado (HERE), I was sure I’d grok on this one, too. And I was right. This guy sure knew how to write.

This one was first published in 1956 under the pen name Jonathan Grant. At the time, he had already published two crime novels and six westerns as Clifton Adams, so I don’t know why the pen name was needed. Anyway, I'm glad to say it’s now back in print thanks to Stark House’s line of Black Gat paperbacks.

The story starts with a brutal prison break by our narrator, Roy Surratt. The woman meeting him afterwards asks if he had any trouble. “No trouble at all,” he tells her, followed by this exchange:

     Doris Venci said, “It doesn’t seem possible than an escape could be brought off with no trouble at all.”
     “Well, there were two guards. I had to kill them.”
     She looked at me. “That’s nice,” she said. “I’m glad there wasn’t any trouble.”

Surratt’s inspiration—sort of his mentor—is a criminal named John Venci, who is dead before the story begins. In a flashback, Venci asks him, with “no more expression than a razor gash in a piece of leather”:

    “Suppose that a very religious man feels an overpowering need for meditation, for reconsecration of his flagging spirit, where does he go?”
     I said, “A monastery, I suppose.
     “Exactly,” he had answered. “Well, I came to prison.”

Like Venci, Surratt sees himself as a philosopher of crime, a man so much smarter than everyone else that he can (and should) do whatever he likes and get away with it.

Employing a treasure trove of dirt Venci had collected on the pillars of local society, Surratt embarks on a new crusade of blackmail, and (when the opportunity presents itself) more murder. And after that?

     “Tell me, Mr. Surratt, if you had all the money you could ever want, how would you live out your later years?”
     “Probably I would retire and concentrate on killing all the people I didn’t like.”

Unfortunately for Surratt, he meets and falls big time for a good girl named Pat Kelso. “Pat Kelso was no dummy,” he tells us. “She wasn’t just another piece of gorgeous sex machinery; she had a brain.” Should he steer clear of her? You bet. But does he? What do you think?

The pace is fast, the dialogue are tough, the characters are unpleasant and there’s a cloud of doom hanging over the protagonist’s head. Just what you want from a Gold Medal style crime novel. The eminent critic Prof. Bill Crider calls it, “The real thing. Uncluttered prose, smooth and assured, with just the right amount of description to make things real and immediate.”

Following Never Say No, Adams wrote only two more crime novels, concentrating on westerns instead. There were about forty of those, some under the names Matt Kinkaid and some as Clay Randall. 


George said...

Clifton Adams is an underrated writer. I plan to read more books by Clifton Adams in the months ahead.

Mathew Paust said...

Mary Surratt's bastard offspring? She must have homeschooled him.