Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Sexton Women – Richard Neely

Viet Nam vet Johnny Sexton returns home to ask his rich father Tom for $30,000 in a movie making deal he and his friend Jim Ralston are planning. During the visit Johnny falls for his father's very young , very sexy wife Lucille. When Dad Sexton reports his lawyer has discovered that Ralston and his other movie investors are in the porn biz he vetoes the loan. Relations between Johnny and his father were not that good to begin with and now the son is pissed off. His anger gets the better of him. He vows to get not only his $30,000 but even more money.

Like any noir anti-hero he, of course, confides in his object of desire who wickedly encourages him. An arson plot is rigged at an old house where his father lived with his first wife – Johnny's mother. When the wreckage is bulldozed by Tom's own construction company they turn up a skeleton. But it's much smaller than Tom Sexton's body, has all teeth intact (Tom wore dentures) and the skull is bashed in. Dental records prove it to be Tom's first wife. Uh-oh. What happened to Dad's body? And who killed Mom?

This is a deviously constructed book, as fast paced as any paperback original from the 1950s on which it is modeled. The Sexton Women (1972) matches those crime novels in every aspect and to a certain extent goes further than books by Day Keene, Bruno Fischer and Gil Brewer in terms of sleazy sex and amoral behavior.

Neely is an underappreciated writer of nasty noir done up 1970s style. He is probably best known for The Plastic Nightmare turned into a movie, the pulpy fun thriller directed by Wolfgang Petersen retitled Shattered and starring Tom Berenger, Greta Scacchi and Bob Hoskins. His other novels well known among discerning readers include The Japanese Mistress and The Walter Syndrome.

This little known book among Neely's fifteen titles is one of those twisty roller coasters with a vertigo inducing plot and a genuine noir atmosphere in which the innocent are punished and the guilty get their just desserts. It's hard to sympathize with Johnny, a model of human baseness -- greedy, selfish, vengeful, sex-crazed. You can't help but read on envisioning a suitably nasty end for the guy after all his scheming. And when that end comes there's also a delicious irony thrown in for good measure.

4 comments:

  1. John: I doubt I will read the book. I find it harder as I grow older to read books with truly dislikeable primary characters.

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    1. I hear that a lot from people, Bill. I sometimes go through a phase where I read nothing but nasty noirs filled with detestable people knowing that in the end they will get what they truly deserve. I think I read these books in order to pacify my rage against the real world in which real justice is utterly absent.

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  2. Just the other day I was looking again at my copy of THE RIDWWAY WOMEN, which I can no longer remember anythign about but which i remember being slightly disappointed by after that great amnesia story PLASTIC NIGHTMARE and THE WALTER SYNDROME, which may be my favourite though I've only 4 or 5 of his.

    Incidentally, my copies of the two Jacquemard-Senecal novels you reccomended In surprisingly nice hardback editions given the price tag) are now on my shelf waiting to be read. Cheers John.

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    1. I found a copy of THE WALTER SYNDROME at a book sale recently. We picked up a bag of books for $7 and that made each book a mere 27 cents. Love it! I also have a copy of THE PLASTIC NIGHTMARE but have never read it. I thought the movie was fantastic.

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