Steve Lee
Created by Charlie Wells

One of my favorite paperback covers graces The Last Kill by Charlie Wells. (Signet 1225, Copyright 1955) by one of the great cover artist-Robert Maguire. But between the covers is a good hardboiled P.I. story.

STEVE LEE is a southern PI, working out of Memphis. The book opens with Lee identifying for the cops, a murdered friend/stool pigeon of his in a muddy field. "...burn marks were made in the extremely tender flesh behind the knee. .45 slugs smashed through, obliterating his nose, so that now his face had that sunken-in look of a sun-bleached skull. I bent down, found more of those burn marks on his neck and chest. Sammie's last hours had been his roughest." Of course, since this was Lee's friend, he sets out to find who murdered him.

This is 50s hard-nosed crime fiction. And if you think you are reading something by Mickey Spillane, you might not be far off. Wells even states on the back cover that "Spillane decided I could write and worked with me for a whole year." Even the title sounds like something from Mickey. Steve Lee carries a .45 and uses it. Along the way he takes on the low-lifes, cases the joints, takes a sap to the skull, and does some good detective work. There are icepicks, torture, more killings and of course a couple of skirts-one blonde and one brunette.

Wells wrote in the first person, and uses the Spallane-ian dialog: "She was dynamite and I wanted to light her fuse and see exactly what kind of explosion she'd make."

What Wells did well is create a gloomy, drab, dark atmosphere for the novel. Very noir-ish. The whole story takes place in rainy, cold weather and mostly at night. This compounds Steve Lee's cynical attitude, which enhances the story. These are the type of P.I. crime stories that made the 50's paperback era popular. They were successful for the publishers and gobbled up by the public. Once in a while you have to read one of these for nostalgic reasons.-This one does it.

As for the author, he was born in the south and wrote one other novel that I know of -- Let The Night Cry. With another Maguire Cover.



Report respectfully submitted by August West. First published in January 2008 on August's amazing Vintage Hardboiled Reads. Used with permission.

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