Monday, May 31, 2021

Review: The Widow

The Widow The Widow by Orrie Hitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Orrie Hitt wrote 150+ sleaze-noir novels in the 50s and 60s. I've read more than 50 of them so far and the quality of the writing is quite varied. Not sure where this one will ultimately rank after I've finished reading all of Hitt's books, but right now The Widow is very close the top of the heap. Generally, his pre-1960 books are better written, and this is mostly because in the early 1960s Hitt was cranking them out assembly-line mode every couple of weeks and the quality of those books dropped off severely as he rarely made an effort to write from within the character as he did with his early novels. The Widow is the story of Jerry Rebner's decline and fall. When the novel starts he has just been fired from his job operating a backhoe because he punched out his boss. He's ready to leave town until he gets his head turned by a skirt he wants to chase. In the classic noir pattern, we sense that his doom is sealed at that moment. But how it happens is the story and Hitt does a great job of stretching that out in beautiful tease and deny mode. What elevates this novel in my ranking of Hitt's novels? His dialog is stinging back and forth shots on goal, frequently fulfilling the dictum of "using exposition as ammunition." And Jerry Rebner is haunted by the death of his wife in a car accident and there are several scenes where his torment is shown completely from within the character. He's a heel, but these scenes of torment humanize him in a way rarely seen in Hitt's novels (at least the ones I've read so far). And thus we feel his fall even though we can despise his choices. It does get a bit repetitive at times - the repeated tease and deny - and this plot (as many of Hitt's plots do) bares some similarities to other of his novels, but this is one of his best.

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