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Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

HONEY WEST: KISS FOR A KILLER by G. G. Fickling

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Honey West was a female private eye that invaded the hardboiled detective scene of the 1950s and muscled over some of the big boys. Created by G. G. Fickling (the pseudonym of husband and wife team, Gloria and Forest Fickling), Honey West starred in eleven novels before cashing out in 1971.

The 1950s were the heyday of the paperback novel. Men returning from World War II wanted something to read that was different from the relatively tame pulps they’d read prior to the war. Mickey Spillane was one of the first to offer the edgy kind of entertainment those men (and some women) wanted when he created his two-fisted private eye, Mike Hammer.

Honey West was the feminine version of the time. Before women’s lib, women depended on sexual allure and wiles to get what they were after. Honey oozed sex and wile, and frequently ended up in situations where clothing was not exactly optional, but she ended up underdressed all the same, usually through no fault of her own. She carries a .22 revolver holstered on her garter and is forever reaching up under her skirt/mini-dress to pull it out.

In A Kiss for a Killer, Honey gets a phone call from her police contact that lets her know one of the guys she’s been dating has just been ran over by a steamroller. She sets out to investigate and immediately gets framed for the murder.

The trail takes her to a nudist colony that we’d recognize as a cult these days. From there she finds an Italian actress hanging from a tree, and that mystery – when unraveled – strikes close to home.

The Honey West novels, like many of the private eye books in that era, weren’t written for serious entertainment. They were breezy, lightweight, and fun. It had been a while since I’d read anything like this, so it took me a little while to get back into the groove of reading something that was so thin.

The action comes so fast and furious that I kept turning pages. But the prose was deceptive. The faster I turned, the thinner the character, and soon I had to go back a couple of times to remember who I was reading about.

There’s some wonderful old dialogue that sounds like it was lifted from radio shows or old movies. Such as one guy telling Honey in a seductive way to take her clothes off while at a nudist colony. Honey responds, I only take these for one thing, and that’s to shower.

It was a lot of fun reading about what passed for scandal back in the late 1950s. Most people wouldn’t even blink an eye today. But it also made it hard to believe in some of the motives the authors trot out for inspection. Still, the pacing was so frantic that I got pulled along in spite of myself.

There’s a tremendous amount of dialogue. Coupled with the first-person narrative, the book kept my attention throughout.

However, unless you’re a fan of the 1950s private eye fare or want something simple that won’t engage you on a deep level, the Honey West series as a whole might be a little light.

Overlook Press has reprinted the first two books in the series. This one and the first novel, This Girl For Hire, have been the only two reprinted so far. Hopefully they’ll get around to the rest of them.

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