Friday, April 12, 2013

Forgotten Books: LOVELY LADY, PITY ME by Roy Huggins (1949)

This is one of those books that's been sitting on my shelf so long it's growing hair on it. I knew it wasn't a detective novel, much less a Stu Bailey adventure, so it seemed low priority. Now that I've finally read I'm thinking, Damn. If I'd read this years ago, I could enjoying it now for the second time. Well, hey. I guess that's the breaks.

Lovely Lady, Pity Me was Roy Huggins' third and last novel, following The Double Take (1946, reviewed HERE) and Too Late For Tears (1949), another book I've neglected far too long. The 1959 paperback 77 Sunset Strip (reviewed HERE) doesn't count, because it's really three novelettes, loosely bridged to impersonate a novel.

Huggins, as you probably know, found his greatest success in television, where he created 77 Sunset Strip (based on his Stu Bailey character), Maverick and The Fugitive. He was also co-creator of The Rockford Files, and produced such shows as Alias Smith and Jones, Baretta and The Virginian. "Lovely Lady, Pity Me," in fact, was the title of the second episode of 77 Sunset Strip, so I suspect he may have cannibalized his own book for the show.

Our hero here is John Swanney, West Coast Representative and writer for Nation's Week magazine. As the story opens, he's wanted for murder and on the run. In desperation, he drops in on his loyal co-worker Molly Royce and tells her how the hell he got into such a predicament. That story takes the first half of the book to tell.

In the flashback, we learn Swanney is estranged from his wife. They're still living in the same house, but she wants him out, and is demanding the house as a souvenir. It's a relief for him, then, when the magazine sends him to ritzy Palm Springs, to find out why the burg is on the skids. There he meets an enticing and mysterious woman he calls Ann (short for Anonymous) and begins a clandestine affair.

Ann (which turns out to be her real name) won't tell him who she is, where she lives or whether or not she's married. She also won't tell him why she won't tell him any of these things. Naturally, this makes him a mite curious. Then, on assignment, he happens to run smack dab into her other life, and her secrets are revealed.

Trying to come to terms with his new-found knowledge, Swanny arranges one last secret meeting - and while he's having it, his wife gets murdered. He comes home, finds her dead, and has no alibi. Next thing you know the cops are hot on his trail.

This brings us back to the present, and the second half of the book is a mystery/thriller, as Swanney and friend Molly run from the law while trying to figure who really killed the wife. Huggins' prose is deliciously satisfying throughout. He's not trying to channel Raymond Chandler, as he did in The Double Take, but he still has some of that edge, mixed with a bit of James M. Cain. At one point, Swanney even jokes about his story turning in a "James Cain tank drama."

Late in the book, when Swanney opens the yellow pages and starts calling private detectives, he has a brief conversation with - you guessed it - Stu Bailey. This is great stuff!

More than ever, it's time for me to read Too Late For Tears.

More Forgotten Books at pattinase!


George said...

I know Roy Huggins from 77 SUNSET STRIP. Maybe STARK HOUSE will reprint some of Huggins' work. I'd buy them.

Evan Lewis said...

You wouldn't be sorry, George.

Rick Robinson said...

I read and really liked DOUBLE TAKE and I do like and read 77 SUNDET STRIP because it Huggins and that's good enough. I haven't read this but would like to.

Rick Robinson said...

That was supposed to be "and I do count, and have read, 77 SUNSET STRIP..."