Book review: Dent’s ‘Honey in His Mouth’ a sweet read
Honey in His Mouth
By Lester Dent
Hard Case Crime
Available in October
For most of his writing career, Lester Dent chronicled the adventures of heroes like Doc Savage, Richard Benson; the Avenger and the Skipper. He was considered by many to be one of the greatest pulp writers of them all. What most people don’t know is that Dent was never satisfied with his pulp efforts and aspired to work for the higher class publications known as the slicks. To achieve this goal, he wrote crime fiction like Honey in His Mouth, which was completed a few years before his death in 1959 but never published. Kudos to Hard Case Crime for releasing what is a delicious black comedy.
Walter Harsh is a two-bit con artist barely making a living with his portrait scams. An automobile accident lands him in a hospital with a broken arm. Here he is approached by a group of South American agents who worked for a ruthless dictator known as El Presidente. Their leader’s position is precarious at best and it appears a military coup is in the offing. The clique, consisting of three men and El Presidente’s former mistress, have hit upon a scheme to do away with the soon-to-be disposed tyrant and abscond with his hidden funds deposited in various American accounts. To do so they need to find someone who can pass as an exact double for El Presidente and that person is none other than Walter Harsh.
Of course Dent is taking the basic plot line of Anthony Hope’s classic adventure romance, The Prisoner of Zenda and turning in on its head. Instead of a noble British adventurer coming to the aid of a small foreign republic, as happens in Hope’s 1894 novel, we are given a low-life hustler about to become the lynch pin to a million-dollar scheme far beyond his meager imagination to grasp. The book works because Dent’s ability to capture the essence of his characters is simply brilliant. Harsh from page one is a sneaky little creep the likes of which you never meet. Throughout his adventure, he never once shows an ounce of decency or goodness. His selfish perspective on life is simple, all the world’s riches were meant for him and him alone.
Which is why the ending is truly inspired justice that will have you chuckling. Lester Dent was a rare talent who carved out a niche forever in the annals of hero pulps, but books like Honey in His Mouth lay claim to true depths of his writing genius. This book comes out in early October. Don’t miss it.
Read more of Ron Fortier’s reviews at Airship27.com