Saturday, November 1, 2014

Blonde on the Spot by Hank Janson

Author Stephen Frances used the name Hank Janson both as a pseudonym and as his main character’s name commencing with When Dames Get Tough in 1946. Blonde on the Spot appeared in 1949. The eye-popping cover by Reginald Heade was censored in England but is reproduced on this Telos Publishing 2005 reprint from an original proof copy. Those Reginald Heade covers went far in selling thousands of copies of the Hank Janson books. Three cheers for Reginald Heade! The Telos reprints are worth collecting for both the covers, and the stories. Blonde on the Spot is a sequel to Lilies for My Lovely which I’ve never read. Hank Janson, the character, is a traveling newspaperman on the road with his girlfriend, Sally. She’s a bit of a complainer and their relationship is on the rocks when they drive into Ghost City, Oklahoma, a Wild West tourist trap similar to Las Vegas. Gambling and prostitution are the primary industries in Ghost City. Janson meets up with his old pal, Victor, who works as a night-owl disc-jockey and appears intent on ending crime in Ghost City. Janson finds Victor’s crusade a worthy activity, so he joins forces with him in a rollicking and violent sequence of events that splatter the pages with blood, gasping macho men, and violent naked hookers, all at once. Included is an Indian uprising against the evil white man and it’s here that author Frances has an Indian speak the immortal words: “Want’um squaw. You give, then go. No kill.” (p. 145) The Indian, of course, was interested in one of the three naked women that Janson is trying to save in a bordello. Although the story takes place in 1949, there’s no hint of anything but stereotypes when it comes to minorities. The violence is endless, but remarkably none of the characters suffer much, even after having their noses bashed to a pulp. Blonde on the Spot is not the best Hank Janson novel I’ve read, and the implausible plot and stereotypes stretch the believability factor, but I still liked it. Author Stephen Frances had a gift for setting the hardboiled tone at the right pitch, and the wackiness helps make it all appealing. The Telos reprints feature introductions by Steve Holland that help put the series in perspective. Later Hank Janson novels were written by different writers, which I’ll cover later. Blonde on the Spot was written to entertain, and it does precisely that. I enjoyed every throbbing pulse, screeching dame, sock to the jaw, and the cigarettes and cocktails afterward. Literature doesn’t all have to sound like John Milton’s poetry in order to entertain.

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