Nita's Place by Harry Whittington
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In the judge a book by its cover category, this 1960 first edition cover art is in the same vein as a lot of the Orrie Hitt sleaze books published around that time. Whereas the 1964 second edition has cover art similar to the Gold Medal crime/noir books. So this tough to categorize novel was marketed at different times to different audiences. Interestingly, although this Whittington doesn't quite succeed as either sleaze or noir, if it were sexed up a bit it would track well with the books he wrote for Greenleaf/Corinth in the mid-1960s. The storyline has 44-year-old Jay Wagner, fresh off a couple of heart attacks and a you-could-drop-dead-at-any-time prognosis, taking up residence at a Florida motel to enjoy the sun and bikini-views until he drops dead as the doctors say he will. The motel is run by Nita (good girl) and her sister Callie (slut) and after a period of bikini gazing Jay pleases them both. And then there's Rita, Elsie, and Betty. Jay is your typical sleaze novel protagonist getting plenty of action. The novel, however, is full of espionage overtones with a nearby missile base, airmen and scientists around the pool, and rumors that the motel is under government surveillance. Also plenty of noir subplots via Jay's nefarious history, Nita's and Callie's mob connections, and all three of them are fleeing past lives they can't escape. The problem is that Whittington never quite decided on which kind of novel—sleaze, spy, noir—this would be, and the result is that it succeeds at none of them. Toss in a lot of clunky head-hopping from the point of view, and dialogue that is frequently too on the nose, and this is not one of Whittington's best. That said, I still mostly enjoyed this one because it always seemed to be about to explode. Whittington had plenty to work with here but never quite pulled it off.
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