Friday, January 31, 2014

Forgotten Books: BENEFIT PERFORMANCE by Richard Sale (1946)

Richard Sale was at his best when he was dishing out slangy dialogue. That’s what made the Daffy Dill series so great, because with Daffy telling the stories, they’re pretty much all slangy dialogue. (I posted a complete Daffy story recently, HERE.)

There was a little of that in his first two mystery novels, Lazarus #7 (HERE) and Passing Strange (HERE), but since both were narrated by somewhat stuffy medical men, the wacky dialogue was limited to the supporting cast - members of the movie colony.

Benefit Performance (1946) switches things up. This one is told in third person, but the hero is a mid-level movie star who is well-steeped in Hollywood lingo. Slang-wise, Benefit Performance starts like a house afire, but - due to the nature of the plot - soon slacks off.

Kerry Garth, our star, has just finished a picture and craves solitude, so he hires his stand-in, a guy named Joshua Barnes, to impersonate him at the premiere. But when Barnes (as Garth) walks down the red carpet at Grauman’s Chinese, he’s shot dead by someone in the crowd.

Convinced that he himself was the intended target, Garth allows the world to think him dead, while assumes the role of Joshua Barnes. Barnes, it develops, was a man of many secrets, and many enemies, and Garth finds that being Barnes is not a bit safer than being himself.

While this is a good tight plot and the story is consistently well told, Garth as Barnes can’t display his habitual breezy personality, so the slang takes a back seat. A pity, but this was a great read anyway. And as soon as I finished I overdosed on witty dialogue by reading another adventure of Daffy Dill. I'll be sharing it with you PDQ.

Links to a whole lot more Forgotten Books at pattinase.


George said...

I read BENEFIT PERFORMANCE in that DELL edition years ago. I remember enjoying it.

Evan Lewis said...

I ain't at all surprised, George.

J F Norris said...

Loved this one. In my review back in 2012 I quoted Sales' eccentric way with words. Here's my favorite sentence in this book:

"The slap sent his dark glasses free-wheeling across the room, raised galactic meteors on the curtain of his mind and stung like the devil."

There were other bizarre uses of obscure adjectives and nouns, too. And all of it in Chapter 12. It's like he took lessons from the Robert Leslie Bellem School for Pulp Prose.

Evan Lewis said...

I think it's more likely Bellem was influenced by Sale, though it's not impossible they influenced each other. It's easy to imagine Bellem reading Detective Fiction Weekly, but hard to see Sale reading Spicy Detective.