Saturday, July 23, 2022

Honey West: Honey in the Flesh

Honey in the Flesh was published in 1959. It was the fourth of the eleven Honey West PI thrillers written by husband and wife writing team Gloria and Forest Fickling under the name G.G. Fickling.

The Honey West novels were the basis for the 1965-66 Honey West TV series starring Anne Francis. Neither the novels nor the TV series have ever received the attention they deserved.

Honey West certainly wasn’t the first female fictional detective and she wasn’t even technically the first fictional female private eye. But when she made her first appearance in print in 1956 she was something different. She was the prototype for most of the female action/adventure heroines of the 60s and 70s, not just in books but in TV and movies. Modesty Blaise, Cathy Gale, Emma Peel, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., all followed the trail that Honey West had blazed. Honey West was a new type of heroine. She was not just an action heroine. She was smart, witty, sexy, stylish and hyper-confident. She was very feminine and totally comfortable with her sexuality and her femininity but she was hardboiled and tough as well.

The Honey West novels, apart from the innovation of featuring a female protagonist, are fairly typical of the private eye fiction of the 1950s. And that’s no bad thing. American PI fiction of that period was bursting with energy and hard-edged style. The Honey West novels are hardboiled but heavily laced with humour. And sexiness. In fact at times outright sleaze, in the style of late 50s sleaze fiction. They were written at a time when authors could get away with very little in the shape of actual sexual content but there was certainly nothing to stop them creating an atmosphere of sex and sleaze.

Honey in the Flesh opens with the body of a beauty pageant contestant fished out of the bay. The girl is Josephine Keller, the contestant from California. That’s what the police think. The coroner is non-committal. Mawson Lawrence, the businessman who is promoting the Miss Twentieth Century Pageant, is adamant that Miss Keller is alive and well. He wants to hire Honey to prove that all the contestants are alive and well, although Honey isn’t at all sure that that is really what she’s been hired for.

Then the missing contestant turns up, safe and unharmed.

But Honey is not happy. Her friend Lieutenant Mark Storm isn’t happy either. Nor is hardbitten newspaperman Fred Sims.

Mark Storm suspects a connection between the pageant and a prostitution racket. He thinks Mawson Lawrence isn’t as squeaky clean as he appears to be.

Honey gets a phone call from one of the girls in the pageant, offering information that might tie in with the prostitution angle, but Honey’s meeting with the girl doesn’t turn out at all the way Honey had hoped.

People keep trying to kill Honey. And trying to set her up so that it looks like she is a murderess. Honey heads to Mexico, accompanied by beatnik photographer Hank Kirsten who is one of the prime suspects. Then Honey gets kidnapped and given an injection that turns her into a sex maniac. Hank manages to get Honey back to the States but it’s a wild drive, with Honey continually trying to rape him.

Anyone and everyone involved with the pageant could be a suspect, including all eighty-eight contestants. Would one of the contestants actually murder a fellow contestant, just for the sake of the $50,000 prize money and the glory of becoming Miss Twentieth Century? Honey has no doubts whatever on that score. Beauty contests are ruthless. It’s kill or be killed. Honey has no illusions about women.

Most of the contestants seem to spend most of their time wandering about naked. In fact all the female characters (including Honey) seem to have trouble keeping their clothes on.

The plot is fiendishly complicated. The contest itself, the call-girl racket, a brothel in Tijuana with which most of the characters seem to be connected, crooked cops, corrupt public officials, shady business deals, bizarre marital complications - all these things could provide motives for murder.

There’s plenty of action, Honey gets into lots of dangerous escapades and as you may have gathered there’s an atmosphere of sex, sin and sleaze. It’s all great fun. Honey in the Flesh is very pulpy, in the best possible way. Highly recommended.

You might want to check out my reviews of other Honey West novels - This Girl For HireA Gun for Honey and Girl on the Loose.

No comments:

Post a Comment