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Craig's Book Club
Book Reviews

Spotlight on: Day Keene

Books Reviewed:
Home is the Sailor
Sleep With the Devil (coming soon)
Who Has Wilma Lathrop?

To arrange to have products considered for review, send an email to craigsbookclub@yahoo.com.

Home is the Sailor by Day Keene Day Keene, Home is the Sailor

(Hard Case Crime is a new imprint from Dorchester Publications and Winterfall LLC that focuses on books written in the style of the old pulp crime novels. They will be publishing new works in the old style, as well as reprinting classics from the masters, like Day Keene's Home is the Sailor.)

Day Keene's name (itself a pseudonym for Gunnar Hjerstedt) isn't as well-known as James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, Dashiell Hammett, or Raymond Chandler, the acknowledged masters of noir literature. That's probably because Keene's writing isn't as generally palatable, tending toward an even darker tone than the others.

Even in a book with such irredeemable characters as Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, there is a sense that they are at least aware that what they are doing is wrong. There is no such guarantee with Day Keene. (In one of his later books, for example -- Who Has Wilma Lathrop? -- one character has molested his mentally-disabled sister so often that she stays in bed most of the time, just waiting.)

Home is the Sailor is, like most of its ilk, based on the common assumption that a woman who is good in bed can make a man do anything, and killing is just the beginning. Usually the men in these books are about half-witted, mostly unaware of how skillfully they are being manipulated until it's too late. Such is the fate of Swede Nelson, who falls into the clutches of young widow Corliss Mason and gets taken on the ride of his life, with options for the other kind, when all he wants to do is settle down and buy a farm....

Corliss is a lot of the draw that this book holds, her status as a femme fatale is secure, and Swede Nelson is the kind of fallible hero who is easy to identify with. I saw the revelation coming miles away, but I've been reading a lot of these kinds of books lately, and Keene more than makes up for it with the pace of the story (though it is a little on the long side once things start to wrap up). With Home is the Sailor acting as the springboard, I'll definitely be looking for more from Day Keene.

(I do have a couple of questions: How does a guy named Swen Nelson, of Scandinavian descent, nicknamed "Swede," end up with brown hair on the book cover? And why did it take two artists to do it? Although I have to admit that the separation is invisible.)

Cover of Day Keene Double by Day Keene Day Keene, Day Keene Double:
Who Has Wilma Lathrop? and Sleep With The Devil

Also available -- from Allan Guthrie and Lee Horsley's PulpOriginals.com -- is the Day Keene Double, consisting of two classics published back-to-back, Who Has Wilma Lathrop? and Sleep with the Devil. Fans of Home is the Sailor, an earlier work by two years, will definitely want to fork over the measly four dollars to get a further break of Day.

On his way out of the courtroom, where he testified against a trouble student, Jim Lathrop is accosted by two thugs. They give him $5000 and a message for his wife. Then they beat him up, break his glasses, and leave him lying in the parking lot. Lathrop goes home and asks his wife Wilma about the men; she denies knowledge of all of it. They have dinner, make especially hot love on the couch, and go to sleep. The next morning, Wilma is gone.

Keene keeps the suspense ratcheted in Who Has Wilma Lathrop?. While Lathrop is trying to find his wife, the police and the thugs are trying to find him. He becomes the prime suspect to the former, and he's in the way of the latter. Along the way, he runs into conflict wherever he goes: at home, at work, even just sitting in his car is potentially deadly. He eventually goes up against newly-discovered members of Wilma's extremely disturbed family, finding out more about the situation as he goes along. It's no accident that the moment Lathrop loses his glasses is the moment he finally begins to see things clearly.

Sleep With the Devil review coming soon...

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