Chapter 6: Mayhem in the East

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Though Dane is the hero of seven novels that vary in pace and polish, he remains among the most forgotten of “eyes.” (Neither he nor his creator are even mentioned in O’Brien’s Hardboiled America.)

Dane begins his career in The Perfect Frame (1951). A former marine, he has a law degree and lives on a third floor converted brownstone apartment on New York’s 53rd St. He favors Seagram’s doesn’t like homosexuals, and hates modern art.

Oh, and as a quick reference, it’s easy to remember the ages of Ard’s heroes. They’re all 30. Young enough to give and receive the physical abuse required but old enough to have some cunning, experience and at least a little wisdom. It also meshes with Ard’s age who was 28 when his first book was published.

While Ard had a good eye for detail of New York’s mobster-infested union scene, Dane’s entree in A Private Party is slightly two-dimensional. He doesn’t enter the plot until third of way through the book and gets overwhelmed by the other characters despite attempts to maintain a presence with his tough guy attitude and physical way of dealing.

Deadly Beloved is one of Ard’s fastest-moving novels, zipping from scene-to-scene in quick lightning bursts, anticipating by two decades the fast-moving edits that TV would grow into. Dane accepts the job of delivering a gambling debt to a Florida gangster who is trying to raise money for guns to arm an army coup in South America. Dane also falls in love with a redheaded exotic dancer who is “owned” by the gangster.

The plot enables the author to take Dane out of New York and down to Florida where Ard himself had recently moved.

Before he knows it, Dane is in the center of an international conflict created by the Florida underworld, a South American revolutionary force, and the CIA. Through it all he manages to unwittingly stop the Latin overthrow, get beat up twice, save a girl named Lisa from rape and murder, release her from the gangster’s contract and deliver the money to the gangster. He also manages to make love to Lisa at least three times.

According to Eileen Hendrick, Ard also had fun with characters’ names, using friends and acquaintances. In Deadly Beloved the main villain, a Florida gangster, is named Johnny Cashman. Young rockabilly Johnny Cash dominated the jukebox and radio at this time. In fact, in 1958 alone he had three #1 hits, “Ballad Of A Teenage Queen” “Guess Things Happen That Way” and “What Do I Care.” (Mrs. Hendrick however, said she is nearly positive that this was just a coincidence, that William almost certainly did not make this conscious Cash connection.

Cashman is also a fairly obvious moniker for a man who has spent his life pulling in money and in this particular case is desperate to collect cash from gambling debts

Ard improved quickly. In the 1954 Don’t Come Crying To Me . (which he dedicated to his wife, Eileen), Dane gets mixed up in saving a baby about to be born to the daughter of a rich powerful man. In one of Ard’s cleverest plots, three men claim to be the father. The novel slows a bit in the middle while Dane is in jail, but we do get insights into the media’s penchant for maximizing news and its voracious, almost vicious appetite for news. Given the media’s over coverage (fed by the public’s insatiable appetite) of selected people and events, this former New York ad man’s description of a trumped up newspaper story, spliced photos and 15 minutes of unwanted fame are as relevant today as they were four decades ago.

For language pundits, one character uses the term “stuffed poobah”. Forty years later, “head poobah” made its rounds in conversations.

Relevancy is balanced by passages that are dated. In one scene a gangster slaps his girl. Dane does nothing, thinking that she brought it on herself.

On the other hand, a moment later, he gives the moll, a complete stranger, his money to go to fly to Florida and hide out.

While Ard did massage his own style, he did not spend much time developing characters or plot subtleties. Dane remains sketchy throughout the novels. Women exist to be rescued (and made love to). Villains are painted with a broad brush. Ard’s goal was speed and action.

Southern Destruction: Lou Largo

Lou Largo saw a slightly briefer existence than his predecessor Timothy Dane. Appearing for the first time in 1959, Largo is a large, massively built insurance company detective. He is named, Mrs. Hendrick said, after Largo, Florida where Ard and his family moved.

Ard completed All I Can Get before he died. Babe In The Woods, published in 1960, was completed by Lawrence Block.

Three other Largo books were ghost written by John Jakes, who, by that time, had established a niche in the paperback world.

“The invitation to write the first book came through my former representatives at the Scott Meredith Agency,” Jakes said in correspondence.

“Scott Meredith explained to me that his (Ard’s) ‘estate’ wanted to continue the Largo novels and would I have a go at the project since I was writing private eye stories and novels of my own?”

The arrangement was as flat fee — 75% to Jakes and 25% to the Ard estate. “It’s possible that the agreement called for payment of royalties but of course in the old paperback days this was standard — no laborer that I knew ever earned a dime beyond the advance,” Jakes said.

“I expect the series ended because publishers were no longer interested, and, from my standpoint, because I really wasn’t interested in this kind of ghosting as a long-term arrangement.”

Jakes also wrote four Largo novelettes which ran in Man’s Magazine:: “ It would appear that “Paula: Target For Tonight ” that ran in the February, 1965 issue, was Lou Largo’s final appearance.

Jakes said he knows nothing of Ard, “other than that he seemed to be on the rise as a writer of private eye novels when he died.”

And So To Bed follows the trend of fast-moving, hard hitting detective novels. In fact Jakes pushed the envelope of hard-hitting scenes about as far as possible for the times. Set in the seedy side of New York, the novel is populated with a huge fat crook, a blind, bitter, used bookstore operator, a prostitute, a peyote popping girl and low life bums who like to shove their shivs into people.

From nearly the first page sex or violence propels the book. Largo is not a philosopher or even a thinker. He’s an imposing machine who charges into trouble. Largo simply does.

In Jakes’ hands, Largo became the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the ’60s, pushing forward, beating and being beaten, killing and nearly being killed, for the sake of justice as he sees it

In the Largo novels, as in the Dane books, the police are roadblocks, buffoons, bullies or helpless cogs in a corrupt city machine. The justice system beyond the police, when it does impose itself, is a travesty. So the hero is left in an urban jungle where night beings — con men, gamblers, jewel thieves, pornographers, blackmailers and murderers –rule until they are killed. Nobody in these novels novel is brought to trial and sent to jail. The bad guys are simply killed.

By the end of the novel Lou Largo has been kicked, punched, beaten over the head, and stabbed by humans and mangled by a killer watchdog.

In an interesting piece of literary trivia, Jakes drops in clues to his own reading habits, making reference to City Lights paperbacks, a line headed by Lawrence Ferhlenghetti which gave exposure to many young beat writers.

He also has fun making reference to a “Henry Miller desk.” A few lines later Largo’s boss says, “You expect me to stay in this air conditioned nightmare?” The Air Conditioned Nightmare was one of Miller’s liveliest and most prophetic works. While Jakes doesn’t remember the references, he did say that he visited San Francisco on business every summer from 1955 to 1960 and browsed in the City Lights shop several times.

A character also makes reference to a paperback book, calling it a “pocket novel.”

 

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