Sunday, February 22, 2009

Review of The Killer and Devil on Two Sticks

The work of Wade Miller (the duo Bob Wade and Bill Miller, who also wrote under the name Whit Masterson) is an excellent example of the hard boiled paperback original ideal. The prose is lean, the stories are violent and the protagonists are, to be charitable, morally ambiguous.

The Killer and Devil on Two Sticks, originally published in 1951 and 1949 respectively, are two good examples of Miller's work, and repackaged side by side by Stark House Press, make for an interesting study in Miller's moral preoccupations.

On the surface, the two books are different. The Killer is about Jake Farrow, a professional big game hunter, who takes a commission to hunt a bank robber and murderer. Devil on Two Sticks is about Steve Beck, a mob enforcer in San Diego who has to ferret a rat out of his boss's organization. Farrow is a rugged outdoor type, while Beck is an urban sophisticate, but both stories revolve around the pride both men have in their work and women who make them ask unwelcome questions about the morality of that work and the validity of that pride.

Both novels are compact, muscular affairs, but Devil on Two Sticks stands out as superior, both for its more involved plot and its ending, which has more resonance than the happier ending of The Killer. Still, both of these books are the real thing.

1 comment:

Cullen Gallagher said...

Wow, this reissue sounds great. I've always wanted to read Wade Miller (well, Bob and Bill, rather). I didn't realize they also published as Whit Masterson! Thanks for the insight.