Thursday, September 9, 2021

Honey West - Girl on the Loose

Girl on the Loose was the second of G.G. Fickling’s Honey West private eye thrillers. It was published in 1958.

G.G. Fickling was actually husband-and-wife writing team Gloria Fickling (1926-?) and Forrest “Skip” Fickling (1925-1998).

The 1965-66 television series starring Anne Francis is now better remembered than the books. The TV series toned down the violence slightly and toned down the sleaze quite a lot. The Honey West character of both the books and the TV series is pretty similar. She’s a lady private detective who took over her father’s private detective agency when he was murdered. In both the books and the series she’s sublimely self-confident to the point of recklessness, she has formidable martial arts skills and she’s quite prepared to use her considerable sex appeal when she deems it necessary. She carries her revolver in a garter holster.

Girl on the Loose hits the ground running. Within the first few pages a guy has been cut in half by machine-gun fire and Honey has been stripped naked. It won’t be the last time in the book that she’s stripped naked.

There’s a Honey West look-alike running around and she’s involved in the kidnapping of a millionaire’s baby son. There’s also a female Marine Corps officer whom Honey is forced to impersonate, there’s a murder of an old friend of Honey’s in San Francisco and there’s a husband out for revenge. There’s even an encounter with UFO cultists. The Ficklings throw in just about everything you could want in a pulpy private eye thriller including a considerable helping of sleaze.

The revenge-seeking husband has a theory that the kidnappers are heading for Mexico and he persuades her to help him set an ambush. Honey thinks his theory is a bit wild but it’s the only decent lead she’s got.

The plot is rather wild and woolly with lots of convolutions but there’s a decent twist at the end. It turns out to be a crime that only a woman could solve. Which is a nice touch - if you’re going to have a female PI you might as well let her make use of her knowledge of female psychology.

There’s quite a lot of violence and some of it gets fairly graphic. There’s no graphic sex but Honey is always aware of her sexuality and all the male characters are aware of it as well (and of her very impressive body measurements). And she does take her clothes off frequently.

The Ficklings belonged to the “if in doubt throw in another murder” school of hardboiled fiction. The pacing is fast and the action is constant.

The Honey West novels are a bit on the trashy side but they’re trashy in a good fun way.

The Ficklings wrote nine Honey West novels between 1957 and 1964 and then two more in the early 70s. There were also three early 60s Honey West novels written by Erik Marsh (about which I know nothing) and there have been several attempts to revive the character.

I’ve previously reviewed the first book in the series, This Girl For Hire, and the third, A Gun For Honey. And the TV series (which is wonderful in its own way).

Honey West is very much the model for most of the female PIs, cops and secret agents (in print and in television and movies) that would appear in subsequent decades - sexy, smart and dangerous. She was in fact the prototype of the kickass action heroine.

Girl on the Loose is moderately hardboiled, pulpy and throughly enjoyable. Highly recommended.

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