LEAVE HER TO HELL (1958) by Fletcher Flora

Flora_Leave-Let-Take_starkThis sardonic private eye novel arrives from those very nice people at Stark House Press in an edition bringing together a trio of 1950s Noirs by Fletcher Flora (1914-1968) with an introduction by Bill Pronzini.  Our narrator, Perceval “Percy” Hand, is hired to find a missing wife, who may or may not in fact be missing – everybody thinks she ran off with her lover, but neither of them has been heard from in nearly two years. Her husband now wants to marry again and his new girlfriend wants to know where she stands …

I submit this review for Bev’s Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt; and Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme over at her fab Pattinase blog.

“Well, I never heard the like. A man’s wife disappears. He doesn’t care. A man’s foster brother disappears. He doesn’t care. The indifference fascinates me.”

The basic premise, with its chivalric if not always chivalrous hero, owes more than a passing resemblance to Chandler’s The Big Sleep, with the missing couple at its centre highly reminiscent of Rusty Reagan and Mona Mars from that classic book. In addition, we also have a crooked-but-nice blackmailing couple named Colly and Rosie who resemble Chandler’s equally ill-fated Agnes and small-time hood Harry, while Mona’s husband, nightclub owner and gangster Eddie Mars, seems to have been the inspiration for the piano-playing heavy, Silas Lawler, found here. But this is nothing if not a somewhat self-conscious take on the genre, and all the better for it. The beautiful Faith Salem plans to marry well, but to do so wants Percy to find the current if absent wife of her rich boyfriend, a woman she used to know in college. Hand is honest and basically honourable, very much a knight-errant in the Marlowe tradition (as his full name might suggest in fact) and is always highly susceptible to the ladies. He may have some ideals but is not naive, all of which is conveyed in an often amused commentary on the language, tropes and motifs of the detective genre. Here for instance is a typical exchange between Percy and a femme fatale:

“I’ve always wanted to kiss a man as ugly as you,” she said. “It wasn’t bad.”
“Thanks”, I said. “I’ve had worse myself.”

Flora_Leave-Her-to-Hell_avonThe plot is neat and well worked out and the general avoidance of violence is very welcome (well, minus a nasty beating our hero submits to at the hand of a well-spoken hood named Darcy – a Jane Austen fan, perhaps?). In addition there is a particularly nice surprise saved for the final section of the book, after four rather nasty murders are uncovered, when all the strands are brought together in a place called Amity. And don’t be put off by the publisher-imposed title (Flora preferred ‘Loose Ends’ which is much better), this is a breezy, well plotted 1950s private eye novel with a minimum of sex and violence and a maximum of wit and intelligence – highly recommended. I’ll be reviewing the other Flora titles in this volume shortly.

Incidentally, Peter Rozovsky’s review at Detectives Beyond Borders is well worth checking out. This fine edition, with a brief but typically informed and informative overview of the author’s career by Bill Pronzini, is another great triple bill from Stark House Press, who supplied the review copy and for which many thanks – it’s a keeper.

Leave Her to Hell / Let Me Kill You Sweetheart / Take Me Home
By Fletcher Flora
ISBN: 978-1-933586-95-3 (paperback), 262 pages, $20.95

I submit this reviews for Bev’s Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt in the ‘just one person’ category:


***** (3.5 fedora tips out of 5)

This entry was posted in 2016 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt, Bill Pronzini, Fletcher Fliora, Friday's Forgotten Book, Stark House Press. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to LEAVE HER TO HELL (1958) by Fletcher Flora

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Now, this sounds like a solid PI novel with a good plot, Sergio, but one that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And that’s a nice blend. Interesting comparison to Chandler, too.

  2. Colin says:

    The first thought hat crossed my mind on reading your intro here was the similarity of the premise to Chandler, which sounds like no bad thing. I’m genuinely intrigued by this now.

  3. Santosh Iyer says:

    I have read this book and found it quite good. Witty and enjoyable with an interesting plot.
    Incidentally the author ghost-wrote 3 Ellery Queen novels (Blow Hot Blow Cold, The Golden Goose, The Devil’s Cook). He was also a prolific short story writer with over 160 stories published in various mystery magazines.

    • Thanks Santosh – I’ve not read any of those Queen books actually, which is unlucky as I used to have them all pretty much, including the ghosted ones (this is before I knew they were not by Danny and Lee)

  4. tracybham says:

    This sounds great, Sergio. Three short novels in one package. I will be looking for this one, first checking at my local independent bookstore. They have had some of the Stark reprints.

  5. realthog says:

    Sounds tremendous!

  6. I had a similar reaction to LEAVE HER TO HELL. I reviewed this wonderful Stark House volume a few weeks ago: http://georgekelley.org/forgotten-books-363-leave-her-to-helllet-me-kill-you-sweethearttake-me-home-by-fletcher-flora/
    Stark House reprints books from the 1950s and 1960s that find a new audience today. I like their format and their affordable prices!

  7. John says:

    And for a completely different side to Fletcher Flora see my review of his wacky spoof SKULDOGGERY which I saved up for my FFB/April Fool’s Day post. Much, much funnier and more entertaining all around than the Lockridge book. I got a copy of this 3-in-1 Flora book from Stark House and intended to read it last month until I serendipitously stumbled across a copy of SKULDOGGERY which is perhaps the only comic novel he wrote solo. He did finish Stuart Palmer’s final Hildegarde Withers book when Palmer died and left the book incomplete, but that I consider that a collaboration. I have a lot of the Alfred Hitchcock short story anthologies and his stories frequently turn up in those. That’s how I first knew of his work.

  8. I’ve seen that terrific original cover, and read George’s review a few weeks back. If I were adding book, I’d buy this pronto. Thanks for the fine review.

  9. Todd Mason says:

    Like John, I first read Flora in Robert Arthur’s HITCHCOCK PRESENTS: anthologies…his humor and Arthur’s dovetailing nicely. I’ll have to agree with Rick that original cover from Avon is starkly compelling in a way that Stark House might’ve emulated more closely…

  10. A well plotted 1950s private eye novel? I’m going to have to get me a few of those novels, or stories, preferably in Stark House or Hard Case. I like both imprints for their appealing covers.

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