|UK 1st edition (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1955)|
Illustration by collectible DJ artist Biro
THE CHARACTERS: Duker is a fine creation. A vigilante of the soul, a man driven to root out injustices that would otherwise never be noticed by the law. He marvels at the perversity of a man who would imagine he could extort money from people by telling them complete lies spun from a few threads of credibility based on the truth of the person's private life. How did he know of Lockyer's involvement in charity that benefits misfit teenage boys, that Lockyer spends his free time teaching young men how to sail on his yacht? How did he know Lockyer had enough money to pay without drawing attention to a sudden large withdrawal of cash? Duker starts to paint a portrait of this parasite of a criminal -- a petty man, one privy to his target's banking history and personal life, and -- through a series of coincidences and dogged detective work -- that the blackmailer is a collector of unusual objets d'art. This last bit of information provides Duker an idea for a clever trap in order to expose the blackmailer.
Duker has a policeman friend from whom he manages to extract information that supports his theory of the blackmail scheme. There are others who have been victimized and all of them have been forced to pay for fear of the lies being exposed to their loved ones or employers.
|UK 1st paperback (Beacon Books, 1957)|
It is interesting that the author's wife, Elizabeth Hely, only a few years later would try her hand at a crime novel that in essence explores exactly what Mole did here. Duker is a vigilante for unknown victims just as Mark was a seeker of justice for his raped and murdered wife in I'll Be Judge I'll Be Jury. Both husband and wife writers seem to have an uncanny skill in dreaming up stories which uncover the darkest and most hidden of motivations. While Hely's book is perhaps the more unnerving of the two The Hammersmith Maggot certainly is one of the most original twists of the tale of a blackmailer and the kind of Dorian Gray world of a small-minded vengeful man who allows his dreams of unbridled vanity and thirst for power over others to turn him into a monster.
QUOTES: "When would the English learn that a pleasant face and an aptitude for sport were not automatic guarantees of honesty?"
"You say that Fenton's threat was fit only for a cheap novelette. So it was. But there is a part of everybody's mind which yearns to believe in cheap novelettes, in music under the moon, in handsome heroes, in masked intrigue and love triumphant. It is trash and it is untrue, and that is why people believe it."
"Some men collect postage stamps. Some spend their holidays hunting for rare flowers in Continental woods. Some, like your husband, stalk stags. I collect human beings who live along the fringes of illegality. And I collect them Mrs Gordonstoun, because it is then that their behaviour is least inhibited and most human."
"He could just imagine Perry in, for example, [his club], moving like a prim and voracious lamprey between the pillars and the pictures."
"When you were faced by the abyss over which the human mind hung poised, then you got vertigo. You got the height sickness that urged you to throw yourself over and end the intolerable strain of clinging to your balance. And you got nausea, too, when you saw the things which moved with rustling, unclean wings in the depths."
"To blackmail, and in the end to kill, for snobbery was a repulsive comment on the human mind. To do those things for silver candlesticks he could comprehend. But to kill for a handshake was ludicrous, ten-dimensional, a music hall joke."
|William Younger as seen on the|
rear of the Beacon paperback
EASY TO FIND? Your chances are pretty damn good for this one, gang. There are about 50 copies right now for sale, mostly in affordable paperback editions. Pick a title, any title. There are three titles the book was published under! I've shown three editions on this post: the original UK hardcover, the first UK paperback, and the US paperback published under the title Shadow of a Killer. The only two not shown are the original US hardcover called Small Venom (Dodd Mead, 1956) and its later 1980 reprint in Barzun & Taylor's series. The 1980 reprints were created specifically for sale to libraries, come in dull green unadorned boards with no DJs, and aren't worth using as illustrations. I had no luck in finding a Dodd Mead edition for sale with the DJ.
(Only the last three feature Casson Duker in the lead role)
Trample an Empire (1952)
The Lobster Guerillas (1953)
The Hammersmith Maggot (1955)
-- US title: Small Venom
-- in paperback: Shadow of a Killer
Goodbye Is Not Worthwhile (1956)
Skin Trap (1957) -- US title: You Pay for Pity