Friday, October 30, 2009

Forgotten Books: HOT CARGO -- Orrie Hitt

Okay, I'll admit that this isn't exactly forgotten. Hitt seems to be going through something of a heyday now, and there's even a blog devoted to him. Besides that, James Reasoner's already reviewed this book. But what the heck. I had a copy, so I thought I'd read it.

It's crime/adventure novel set in a fictionalized version of the Philippines, with gun-running and cocaine driving the plot. Hank Storms has agreed with provide guns to a revolutionary group in return for big bucks. Little does he know that the money will be transported by his wife, for whom he has no love at all. The money changes hands a number of times in a series of crosses and double-crosses, and there are several nice little turns in the plot before it all gets resolved.

A couple of things surprised me about the book. One is that it's a political novel in a way. The Cocoa Republic politics are what drive the plot, and Hitt does a pretty fair job of depicting the sad situation of the people living in Sanbolo, a real hell-hole if there ever was one.

The other surprising thing is how mild and harmless this book is. People talk about sex a lot (using no dirty words, ever), and the women are described in loving detail. But the sex? Well, Hank Storms, the heel hero, sleeps with three of them in one night, but there's sure nothing explicit about the encounters. Here's one hot scene:

"You might be more woman than I can handle," he breathed.

"I doubt it."

And she wasn't.

Here's another one:

"You're the first," she whispered.

He was.

He didn't go back to the ship until morning.

Now you might be thinking that this is the kind of thing that passed for hot stuff in 1958. You'd be wrong. Gold Medal Books had been hotter than this for six or seven years by 1958. Hitt doesn't even use cuss words. People say, "I don't give a rap." Or they call Sanbolo "the rear end of the world."

I had fun reading this book. It's not great, but it's okay, and it has a great cover. The ending is typical '50s. I don't know if it's typical Hitt.


Anonymous said...

Let's be honest. He was OK but the best thing about Orrie Hitt is his name.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Some day I am going to walk into a used bookstore and see a book by Orrie Hitt -or any of the writers you guys dig up.

George said...

I love that cover!

Gerard said...

That is a great cover. Too bad that red bar is at the bottom.

Frank Loose said...

Thanks for the review, Bill. I just saw some copies of this for sale on the internet the other day. Guess I need to buy one. This year, I have read ten Hitt books, and when he was clicking, he was better than "OK." Some titles were as good as Gold Medals from that period. Try The Cheaters or HIred Lover.

It is amusing that these "sleaze" books were sold as over-sexed stories, and yet were so tame. The covers are actually the hottest part of the package. The sex scenes remind me of the cinematic "fade to black" after the first kiss, common in the movies from this period. Your excerpts are typical and could have been pulled from any of his books. It was what happened before and after that was important to the drama of the story, and why many of these books are more than just "sex reads." There is a real attempt to write a good story.

Another thing we need to keep in mind when judging the quality of the work, is that Hitt (and others like him in both the sleaze and crime genres) wrote these books at break neck speed, sometimes just a couple weeks. These books were viewed as expendables --- read and toss. I'm glad not all of them were tossed, as I am enjoying searching them out and reading them.

Unknown said...

I think one of the problems with this book is all the conversations. There's a lot of talk but not much action. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but this is a book that needs a little more movement. The sense of place is really well done, though, and I can even see it as a movie. Bogie in the lead, of course, and Roos is obviously Sidney Greenstreet.

Unknown said...

Hitt's other gun-running novel, ADD FLESH TO THE FIRE, is the same -- we never see any action, the actual gun rnning, landing on Cuba, transport, evading the Cuban army, etc. It all happened "last night."

Hitt's heroes alwaus jumble three women -- one is usually a wife or girlfriend he's tired of, one's a good girl who loses her vriginity ('you're my first') and the third is the evil wrong woman he is head over heels for and eventually screws him over.

But a hero having sex with three women the same night? I haven't seen that yet, or in any book since Peitevich's TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.

For Hitt, there are added in sex scenes in the 1970s reprints from Softcover, very un-typical Hitt with vulgar language and descriptions. I notice Nightstand did the same with their 70s reprints; they could get away with it then.

Unknown said...

Those three women are in this book, but there's also a fourth one, a wanton who decides to reform, get married, and settle down. Not with the protagonist, though.

Too bad the reprints added hotter sex and vulgarity to the books. That would detract from their period charm.