Orrie Hitt (1916-1975) was a prolific American writer of sleaze fiction but he was more than that. Quite a bit of the sleaze fiction of the 50s and 60s was written by guys who were temporarily slumming it and would go on to have distinguished careers on other fields. Guys like Robert Silverberg, Donald E. Westlake and Lawrence Block. Others spent their whole careers writing sleaze. Orrie Hitt belongs in the latter category, but don’t let that give you the idea he was a mere hack. In his own way he was an artist. And more often than not his novels were as much noir fiction as sleaze fiction. It might be most accurate to describe Hitt as a writer of sleaze noir.
As Bad As They Come is the story of a man named Art who works for a mail order company owned by Horace Stone. It’s a precarious business but lucrative if you knew what you were doing. Horace Stone’s mail order business is very much a thriving concern. And Stone has told Art that he’s planing to retire and that Art can take over the business. Art, like so many noir protagonists, is a guy who sees himself as being on the way up.
Art gets a very generous salary. He’s married to Alice. He makes more than enough to keep them in security and comfort but strangely enough they’re only just keeping their heads above water. The reason is simple. He makes $350 a week but tells Alice he makes two hundred. The rest he keeps for himself. He needs it to finance his hobby. His hobby is women. He has slept with most of the girls in the office. The trouble with women is that if you’re going to sleep with them it can be expensive - buying them dinner, buying drinks (lots of drinks), paying for hotel rooms and so forth.
Then his latest lady friend, Linda, tells him she’s pregnant. This is a tough break for Art. Even worse, she refuses to have an abortion. And worse still, she wants him to divorce Alice and marry her. He has no intention of doing this.
And then there’s Alice’s sister Sandy. She’s nineteen and she’s got everything a woman should have and all in the right places. Art and Sandy have started sleeping together. Another complication is Jean Carter. He met her on the train and he’s sleeping with her as well. Art is staring to think that maybe he has too many women.
Then Horace Stone tells Art about his latest idea for the business. He wants to branch out into mail order nudie pictures. In puritanical 1950s America where just about everything that made life enjoyable was illegal this is somewhat risky but Horace has talked to a lawyer who has assured him that as long as they’re careful there won’t be problems with the cops.
Clearly Art’s life is a house of cards that could come crashing down at any moment but Art is a guy who doesn’t like to think about unpleasant things. He’s also a guy who figures that the best way to deal with a problem is to ignore it and hope that things will work out. He’s a guy he writes a cheque and doesn’t worry about whether he has enough money in the bank to cover it. He’ll worry about that when the time comes.
Art is like a lot of Hitt’s protagonists. He’s clever, but not as clever as he thinks he is.
This is typical Orrie Hitt stuff and that’s no bad thing. There’s a sleazy atmosphere but there’s quite a bit of noir atmosphere as well as Art becomes more and more trapped by the situations he’s landed himself in.
A good Orrie Hitt novel. Highly recommended.