Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Paul S. Meskil’s Sin Pit

Sin Pit is a noir novel published by Lion Books in 1954. It was a veteran newspaper reporter Paul S. Meskil’s only novel. And it’s quite something. When he was persuaded to write the novel he was told that the publisher didn’t want it set in New York or LA or Chicago. That had been done too often. Since East St Louis was one of his old stomping grounds as a crime reporter he decided to use it as the setting.

Barney Black is a cop so he’s used to seeing dead bodies. The sight of the corpse of the unidentified young blonde doesn’t upset him too much. He wants to find the killer, because it’s his job. Apart from that he doesn’t care much. Barney has never cared much about women anyway. For Barney women just fulfil a physical need. At the age of thirty-two he has never been in love. He intends to keep it that way. His mother had been a tramp and he assumes that a woman will always be trouble for a man.

There was something about the dead girl that bothered him. Eventually he figures it out. He had seen her before. She had worked briefly as a barmaid in one of the dives that he frequents. So now the cops have a name for the girl. Randy.

Randy had been shot. She hadn’t been raped but her clothes were all torn up. The most notable thing about her was that she had been whipped. And obviously she’d been whipped on more than one occasion.

Barney follows up a few leads, finds out that Randy worked as a whore, and the trail leads him to Grace Trudo. It’s a fateful meeting. Barney can see that Grace is no good. She’s a tramp, and she’s dangerous. She oozes sex. He hates her instinctively. And he wants her. He wants her more than he’s ever wanted any woman.

Barney thinks of himself as an honest cop. Which means he’s not as corrupt as some of the other cops on the force. Barney just takes corruption for granted. It’s no big deal. Following the rules is no big deal either. It’s only a problem if you’re careless. His superiors also take it for granted that rules like remaining within your own jurisdiction or respecting suspect’s rights are only important if the press decides to make a song and dance about them.

Barney also understands that if you want information from suspects, or even witnesses, sometimes you have to beat it out of them. Barney is just a regular cop. He thinks of himself as a good cop. Every good cop keeps a rubber hose in his desk drawer.

So it’s not surprising that Barney bends a few rules in the course of his investigation.

He is however a competent enough investigator and soon he has a theory about the crime. The theory explains the other murders pretty well as well, because Randy’s murder does indeed lead to other killings.

Of course Barney gets involved with Grace. They can’t keep their hands off each other. She’s married, but that’s not a problem for either of them. And now he realises he had Grace all wrong at the beginning. Now he figures he knows all about her, and all about her marriage.

In fact there’s a lot he doesn’t know about her marriage. It’s a slightly unusual marriage, to say the least.

And Barney is drawn into the noir nightmare world, where things go on that even a hardened cop could scarcely have imagined.

And for the reader there are some weird plot twists, which lead to a very surprising ending.

This is a seriously hardboiled novel, it’s most definitely noir and it’s pretty sleazy. This is the seamy underside of 1950s America. It’s highly recommended.

Stark House have issued Sin Pit in a three-novel paperback edition, Lion Trio 3: Femmes Fatale, along with Dark the Summer Dies by Walter Untermeyer Jr and The Devil's Daughter by Peter Marsh.

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