Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Add Flesh to the Fire by Orrie Hitt

Orrie Hitt is currently enjoying a revival. There's at least one blog cataloging the massive literary outputs of the "Shakespeare of Sleaze". Several specialty publishing houses have started reissuing his books. Not bad for a man who's been dead since the 70's. No one knows how many books he penned, but he claimed to have knocked out a novel every two weeks to support his large family and put kids through school. His subject matter was raw emotions and tough men, not quite Hemingway, but able to tell a good story and make it match to the lurid cover.
Add Flesh to the Fire starts with it's protagonist, Clint Walker, drinking rum on his boat, The Shark. It's 1958 and he's contemplating what to do next. His wife having run out on him (with his brother), he's got all the time in the world. Other than taking out the occasional fishing party, he really doesn't have a whole lot to do. He lives on the boat, which is moored at one of the Florida Keys. Other than seducing the college educated daughter of the boat dock owner, he doesn't have many goals.
One day a man named George Gordon and his daughter Vera make an appearance. Gordon wants Clint to take a special run to the Cuban coast for the astronomical sum of five thousand dollars. Clint doesn't want to do the job, it sounds too suspicious, but Vera the bombshell soon changes his mind. Soon the ex-wife shows up and complicates matters because she wants Clint to take up with her again.
Clint is in a quandary. Should he continue his nighttime activities with his landlord's daughter, become serious with Vera, or consider his former wife who wants to patch things up? Soon Gordon wants Clint to make more than one trip to Cuba. And is Vera really Gordon's daughter?
The novel is short on descriptive passages about the Keys, but long on Clint's observations about the way society works. This is not the 1950's of Chuck Berry or even David Halberstam, but a decade where men worked hard and barely made enough cash to pay the dock rent. A lot of the book consists of conversation, more to pad the page lengths, but it keeps the narrative moving.
A good book from the age of novels that were sold by the sizzle.

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