Friday, October 22, 2010

Forgotten Books: The Virgin Kills by Raoul Whitfield

Sorry, this book is not about what you think. There's no serial killer running around executing virgins. And there is no blood-crazed virgin on a murder spree.

Virgin, you see, is the name of a millionaire’s yacht, and that’s where most of the action (and some of the killing) takes place. Still, it's a great read, with a nice mix of character types: Among the millionaire gambler’s guests are a movie starlet, a novelist, a famous flier, a sports writer and assorted society folk. Of most interest to the reader are the narrator - a newspaper reporter - and a thug he brings along to act as the gambler’s bodyguard.

The whole wacky lot of them have gathered aboard Virgin to cruise up the Hudson for an up close and personal view of the Poughkeepsie Regatta. Trouble is, the gambler is convinced someone is out to kill him, and the idea seems to be catching, as others get bumped off along the way.

The cast gives Whitfield a chance to display his wit, playing the hardboiled thug off against the Hollywood and society folks, and the story is entertaining from start to finish. As you might expect, there are a number of jokes about the ship’s name, but they’re all nicely handled.

The Virgin Kills (1932) is a rarity among Whitfield’s books, because unlike Green Ice, Death in a Bowl and two other novels published under his Temple Field pen name, it did not make its first appearance as a serial in Black Mask. Near as I can tell, this one was written directly for hardcover. One thing it does have in common with Whitfield’s other books is that several characters often use the word “humans” when most folks would simply say “people.” I can’t recall another writer doing this.

The novel has been reprinted three times. First by Grosset & Dunlap (I know this because my first edition has a G&D dust jacket), then in 1988 by No Exit Press and in 2004 by So while The Virgin Kills may be a forgotten book, it’s not hard to come by.

Links to more reviews in this week's Forgotten Books Regatta will be found at pattinase.


Walker Martin said...

I've read this novel awhile back in the 1970's. Time sure flies! Nice DJ and it is so obvious that book cover art is on the decline. Original DJ art used to have style and substance. Now the jackets often are blank with just the title and authors name and maybe a decoration.

pattinase (abbott) said...

GREEN ICE is the only book I have from Whitfield. Thanks!

Charles Gramlich said...

I think "Spock" refers to them as "humans" too. :)

Tom Roberts said...

THE VIRGIN KILLS was released by Alfred A. Knopf in 1932. (The G & D is the common edition using the same dj art.)

Whitfield also had a number of young adult novels centering around aviation appear in the early to id 1930s: DANGER CIRCUS, SILVER WINGS, DANGER ZONE, WINGS OF GOLD. Some of these previously appeared as short stories in Boy's Life.

An edition of THE VIRGIN KILLS was also issued by Quill Press in 1985.

Tom Roberts
Black Dog Books

Evan Lewis said...

Yeah, Walker, this is one of those djs that tries to incorporate various elements of the plot. With that title, they should have also included a babe.

Death in a Bowl is easy to find too, Patti. It's been issued a couple of times as a mass market pb.

Good point, Charles. Maybe Whitfield was a Vulcan.

Thanks for info, Tom. I've never seen any of RW's YA books, but I'd like to.

Richard R. said...

I also only have his Green Ice. This looks to be a more traditional plot than the fast-paced hard boiled type. Great review, and of course I agree with Walker about cover / dust jacket art. There is still a lot of good cover art being produced, but there is also that trend to the minimalist text-only cover, which personally I abhor.

Deka Black said...

Noir is a genre from what i read very few works to twell the truth. But the words "serial" is like a flame to the motth to me.

Richard R. said...

Deka, I don't think this is noir nor do I see it described as such in the review. Hard-boiled would be the correct term if not just a straight mystery with no sub-genre label.

Evan Lewis said...

Yeah, this is more a traditional mystery, but with the hardboiled guy thrown into the mix - sort of a bull in a china shop. That's what makes it more fun than Whitfield's straight hardboiled books.

George said...

I love the title even if it is misleading! I've read GREEN ICE, but not this one. Maybe Black Dog Books will reprint it (hint, hint).

Deka Black said...

I se... This kind of works is a pending subject in my library.

Richard R. said...

Maybe BLACK LIZARD, George, probably not BLACK DOG.