Kiss for a Killer

Kiss for a Killer
G. G. Fickling, 1960
I picked up this book because:

1) It was $1.00
2) Awesome cover art
3) Back cover copy claimed: “The Ficklings are widely credited with creating American fiction's first female detective”

Premise: Honey West is a private investigator, and like most, she has a talent for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.  This time, however, her sometime flame Rip Spensor is messily dead, and Honey heads the list of suspects.  The rest of the list includes a Italian movie starlet, a reporter, and the leaders of a nudist cult.

I'm a fan of classic noir and pulp, but I haven't read any in a while, and most of what I've read was from the 30's and 40's, not the 60's.  In short, I had to readjust my brain to get into this, but then I flew through it.  It's really short.

I was disappointed with this book.  It starts strong, and has some good parts, some clever turns of phrase, but it's just not great.  I like the serious, self-mocking tone of classic noir, but this goes all the way over into self-parody.  Apparently the semi-campy book series was turned into a really campy TV show, which sounds about right.

There are some downright weird bits.  Really effective hypnosis? Sexually charged nudist cults? Sheesh. Also the climax doesn't make much sense.

The thing that I found most surprising, and then most sensible on reflection, was Honey's attitude towards life and everyone around her.  She is spunky, very lovely, and seems to have some trouble keeping her clothes on (getting drenched in rain, imprisoned by nudists, etc...) The men she works with and around are mostly pretty free with their innuendo, and instead of squashing them, she plays into it.  At first I was bothered by it, and then it occurred to me that she was trading vaguely obscene barb for vaguely obscene barb, acting like “one of the boys”, which was (and is) often normal for a girl in a “man's” occupation.
“...I've got a passenger.”
…. “A man?” Mark said.
“Of that there is no doubt, Lieutenant. Now be a good boy and go to bed.”
“Is that where you're off to, Miss Four Poster?”
“Lieutanant, you don't quit, do you? This man's a possible client.”
“For what?”
“For the Rip Spensor case. Now are you satisfied?”
“No!” Mark bellowed. “You stay away from the Spensor case. It's hot.”
“Not as hot as my client. Bye-bye, black sheep.”
So, in summary: the style is fun, but the plot was too nonsensical for me.

2 Stars: An Okay Book


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