Friday, December 8, 2023

Orrie Hitt's Dial ‘M’ for Man

Dial ‘M’ for Man is a 1962 novel by Orrie Hitt. Hitt is usually described as a writer of sleaze fiction but most of his books would be more accurately described as noir fiction with some added sleaze. Dial ‘M’ for Man is almost pure noir fiction.

Hob Sampson runs a TV repair business in a small town. The business is doing pretty well. He has a nice girlfriend named Kathy.

Hob is a very ordinary sort of guy. He’s honest - he would never cheat a customer. He’s no intellectual but he’s far from dumb. He Iikes a few beers when he gets the chance but he definitely does not have a drinking problem. He hasn’t slept with Kathy because she’s a nice girl and nice girls don’t do that sort of thing. That doesn’t bother Hob too much. He’d like to sleep with her but he’s prepared to wait. In the meantime he occasionally picks up women in bars but he’s not really a lecher. You couldn’t call Hob a loser but he’s not really a winner either. Hob is the kind of guy destined for a very ordinary life.

Then two people change his life forever. The two people are Doris Condon and her husband Ferris. Ferris Condon is a very rich very crooked builder. Years earlier Hob’s father had been a building inspector who had caused Condon a lot of trouble. He even refused to accept bribes from Condon. Condon has nursed a seething resentment about this for years. He can’t strike back against Hob’s father but he can strike at Hob. He has decided to ruin Hob. And he can do it. Ferris Condon is the most important man in the town. If he decides to ruin your business there’s nothing you can do.

Doris Condon is another matter. Doris is a blonde and she’s about twenty-two. Her husband is around forty years older. He bought Doris. That’s what it amounted to. She hates him but she’s not going to walk away from all that money. She’s a girl who likes money and the things that money buys. She and her husband have a kind of arrangement. If she wants something expensive he buys it for her. If he doesn’t then he doesn’t get to share her bed.

The trouble with Doris starts when Hob calls at the luxurious Condon home to fix their TV set. Condon isn’t home but Doris is. She’s wearing a dress that reveals more than it conceals. What it reveals is pretty enticing. Doris has a body that takes Hob’s breath away. The second time he calls she’s taking a swim and she’s wearing nothing at all. Once Hob has seen Doris’s naked body he is helpless. He will do anything to have her.

There are other complications that suddenly arise in Hob’s life. Things have become very strained with Kathy, and then there’s his former business partner Ben. Ben really is a loser.

Hob is not stupid. He knows that getting involved in any way with Doris would be crazy. But then he starts thinking about that body of hers, and his judgment goes out the window. When she asks him to do something for her he agrees, even though he knows it’s insane.

The plot setup is classic noir fiction stuff although noir purists might not be entirely satisfied with some aspects. It’s worth pointing out that nobody in 1962 was consciously writing noir fiction because nobody in 1962 had even heard of noir fiction. Which means that no writer at that time had any idea that critics several decades later would come up with conventions with which they thought noir fiction should conform.

Hob is certainly a typical noir protagonist, a reasonably decent guy with one big weakness that leads him astray. In this case that weakness is blondes. There are several female characters and at least one qualifies pretty definitely as a femme fatale. The novel also takes it for granted that rich powerful men like Ferris Condon will weave a web of corruption around them.

Hitt’s characters have some complexity. Hob’s friend and former business partner Ben is dishonest and a loser but he has enough awareness of his own flaws to make him not entirely unsympathetic. Hob is tempted into doing things that he knows are wrong but he worries about it. He doesn’t want to do these things but somehow he finds himself doing them anyway and then he feels bad. The women characters mostly have motivations that seem to them to be entirely reasonable.

I’d be a bit dubious about describing this book as sleaze fiction. Characters in the book do have illicit sex but the sex takes place off-stage so to speak. There is however a somewhat sleazy atmosphere.

Dial ‘M’ for Man is typical Orrie Hitt and that’s no bad thing. Highly recommended.

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