Wednesday, August 15, 2012
The Sexton Women – Richard Neely
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.
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.