Sunday, April 14, 2024

Fletcher Flora's Let Me Kill You, Sweetheart

Let Me Kill You, Sweetheart is a slightly noirish murder mystery by Fletcher Flora. It was published by Avon Books in 1958.

Fletcher Flora (1914-1969) was an American pulp writer who wrote twenty-one rather varied novels including some noir fiction.

Let Me Kill You, Sweetheart is the story of three men who have sex with a young woman (we will later discover her name is Avis Pisano) at an isolated resort hotel. The three are all roughly the same age and curiously enough all are known by the nickname Curly. They have other things in common. All live in the neighbouring town of Rutherford. All three intend to marry Lauren Haig, a pretty heiress. One of the three murders Avis.

They all have motives, since in all three cases their chances of marrying Lauren might be prejudiced if it became known that they’d slept with a young woman of Avis’s dubious reputation.

The three men are all rather unpleasant and they all have issues with women but their issues are quite different and they’re unpleasant in different ways.

There was a witness, or at least an almost-witness.

Avis was killed soon after arriving in Rutherford by train. At the train station was Purvy Stubbs. Purvy is a nice enough fellow but he’s a bit of a misfit and he’s obsessed by trains. He watches all the trains come in. He saw Avis leave the train. He saw something else - a glimpse of a man. He cannot identify the man but that man might be, in fact probably is, the killer. Purvy’s evidence is not worth much to the sheriff, but if Purvy ever remembers a bit more about the incident his evidence might be crucial.

Mostly the book gives us a reasonable character sketch of each suspect. We realise that any one of the three might have been capable of murder but we still have no idea which of them is actually guilty.

We also learn a little about Avis. Her reputation for sleeping with lots of men was well deserved but she was really just a sad lonely girl looking for love in all the wrong places.

The novel does of course reflect the late 1950s small town attitude towards sex. That attitude is that sex is just wrong unless you’re married. Having sex outside of marriage makes a woman a tramp. Avis is not the only woman in the book who is condemned for her sexual misbehaviour. Phyllis Bagley is not only regarded as a tramp but as a whore, even though she is certainly not a whore. She does however have an active sex life and that’s enough to give her a bad reputation.

There’s quite a bit to admire in this novel. We get to know the three suspects pretty well and the identity of the murderer is skilfully concealed until the past page.

There is one major weakness. In a murder mystery I like to feel at the end that the solution feels right. That the murderer really is the person who would have been most likely to commit such a crime. In this case I felt the solution was a bit random. There was no real reason why he should been the killer rather than one of the other two suspects. And since this is not a true fair-play puzzle-plot mystery I was left feeling unsatisfied. There was no evidence to convince me of the killer’s guilt and no psychological reason to believe that he and only he could have killed Avis Pisano.

On the other hand you need to wonder what exactly the author’s intentions were. It seems quite likely that Flora didn’t particularly care about the identity of the murderer. He was more interested in the sexual tensions that drive the characters. All of the major characters are motivated directly or indirectly by sex or by anxiety about sex. And Flora handles this kind of material rather skilfully.

This novel is hardboiled but it would be a bit of a stretch to call it noir, although it does have a certain sordid squalid quality to it which might qualify it as marginally noir.

Let Me Kill You, Sweetheart is quite entertaining with at least some suspense but it misses out on greatness and it’s the weakest of the Fletcher Flora novels I’ve read so far. At least it’s the weakest considered as noir fiction. Considered as a psychological and sexual melodrama it’s much more successful. So I’m going to recommend it and it might even sneak into the highly recommended category if psychosexual melodrama is your thing.

I’ve read a couple of Fetcher Flora’s other novels. Leave Her To Hell is a fine slightly hardboiled private eye murder mystery. Killing Cousins is a witty lighthearted murder mystery with dashes of whimsy and black comedy and it’s excellent. So he’s a rather varied writer.

Let Me Kill You, Sweetheart is part of a stark House Noir triple-novel paperback edition along with two other Fletcher Flora novels, Leave Her To Hell and Take Me Home.

1 comment:

  1. Purvy Stubbs is one of the best character names I've seen all year. Going to be using that one for some NPC in a roleplaying game sooner or later. :)

    Thanks for the review. Interesting blog.