Honey in his Mouth Mass Market Paperback
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
That said, the story showed some real creative thought on display, so I opened Honey in His Mouth with both trepidation and anticipation. This novel was written in 1956, one of Dent's last, and it remained unpublished until Hard Case Crime got hold of it and added it to their roster of lost novels that include Roger Zelazny's The Dead Man's Brother and David Dodge's masterful The Last Match, a modern classic of grifter lit.
The main draw of Honey in His Mouth for me was its con-man protagonist. If you want me to read a book, tell me there's a confidence scheme involved, and the more elaborate the better. (Another recent read, King Con by Stephen J. Cannell, was very enjoyable in an Ocean's Eleven kind of way -- meaning all the pieces are there, but it was a little too eager to be mainstream to be anything more than a fun ride.)
Dent starts out with a truly exciting car chase. Walter Harsh is a photographer who is not averse to scamming folks for equipment. Such was the case with D.C. Roebuck, who let Harsh have $712 worth of supplies to be billed later. Harsh never paid the bill and subsequently met Roebuck at a filling station. Harsh speeds out; Roebuck gives chase, and off we go. Before the end, an arm is broken, and a car is off the road.
Harsh's time in the hospital gives him an opportunity. He has O-negative blood, you see, a very rare type. This just happens to be the same blood type as the president of a South American country, whom Harsh also just happens to exactly resemble. There is a quartet of schemers who have been looking for someone just like him to impersonate the dictator, and they're willing to pay him $50,000.
Dent sends us on a ride that will not only please his fans but also those of other Hard Case Crime novels. The vetting process of Harsh is a highlight, with the five main characters taking turns in the spotlight. Each one -- Brother, Doctor Englaster, Mr. Hassam, Miss Muirz (the dish depicted in the cover painting by Ron Lesser), and Harsh himself -- is a full-bodied individual easily distinguished by his or her own conceits and deceits.
Just as I was getting comfortable with them and settling in for a smooth read, Dent throws a monkey wrench that practically sends their plans all to hell. I was worried that Honey in His Mouth would soon focus on the scheme to the book's detriment, but this conflict only serves to bring out the characters' differences and personalities all the more.
Dent is a highly skilled plotter, and Honey in His Mouth in a prime example. It is definitely one of the best of the year, and it just may be one of the best that Hard Case Crime has published yet. It rushes headlong toward a roller coaster conclusion -- with plenty of sharp turns to keep things interesting, including two I never saw coming (though my wife thought one was obvious, so your mileage may vary).
Between Honey in His Mouth and The Last Match, my favorite books of the Hard Case Crime like have been ones found by their authors' estate. I for one would be very grateful if all late crime authors' relations would thoroughly scour their famous kin's files for more gems like these. Sometimes trunks house treasures.
Here, Dent does pulp/noir. Walter Harsh, a small-time Missouri criminal, bears a striking resemblance to a Latin American dictator. He is discovered by the dictator's brother, who is a member of a group of conspirators who have been sequestering the dictator's ill-gotten gains while they search for a lookalike who can enable them to kill the dictator and make off with a cool $65 mil's worth of stolen loot. Then, needless to say, everything goes to hell and Walter is greeted with the bitter realization that he should have stayed in rural Missouri, been nicer to his girlfriend, avoided dubious companions and reined in his lust for women and greed for coin.
All of the pulp/noir elements are in play, from an exaggerated plot that borders on the implausible to the presence of a wily Arab, a corrupt doctor, embittered brother and, of course, a femme fatale. We learn just enough about Walter to have a bit of sympathy for him and just enough to know that he will, in all likelihood, get precisely what he deserves rather than what he expects. Every pulp element is here, even down to the lurid cover. This is a fast read that demonstrates that Lester Dent could write just about anything. Thank you, Hard Case Crime.
Joining "Cry At Dusk", and "Lady in Peril" as Dent's mystery novel output, "Honey In His Mouth" exhibits his stacatto sharp, signature prose style that hypnotically draws readers into the intrigue that surrounds El Presidente and his associates.
Walter Harsh, one time traveling photographer, and Vera Sue, his call girl, find themselves in a situation they do not understand. A mysterious individual finds Harsh in a hospital room, and makes him an offer he cannot refuse-jail, or freedom!
Miami, Florida becomes his 'home' as the mystery around him gradually unwraps, leaving a delicate policital situation in a Latin American country and greedy business associates dictating his future.
Lester Dent was an amazing writer, and "Honey in His Mouth" shows that. Many novels claim to be page turners, but this one is. The 270 plus pages flew by quickly as we, just as Harsh (El Presidente), discover what is behind the machiavellan machinations in Miami. This is not a 'you know the ending already' novel, but rather a literary muscle flexing that will cement Lester Dent as someone more than 'just' Doc Savage's creator.
The plot hinges on the venerable, if implausible, premise that a small-time, small-town American grifter is a dead ringer for a South American dictator. But once you get past that improbable premise, you get a tough, twisty story. None of the characters is remotely likable; all are crooked and violent, and our protagonist (the dictator's double) is not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. The plotters are all continually planning to scam each other even as they are all cooperating in a grand scam to steal the dictator's ill-gotten wealth. The characters are all so busy with their own double- and triple-crosses that they keep getting in each others' way, but they keep scrambling to keep the ball up in the air. Dent ably maintains the suspense until the final twist at the novel's end. Recommended.
It's hard to say much about the plot without giving away too much of the book. Suffice to say that a small fry bunco artist posing as a photographer and his somewhat dipso girl friend end up in circumstances they never envisioned as the result of a car accident. From rural America the action shifts to Florida, and a certain South American country. What would seem like improbable events occur in a very logical way and everyone at the end of the book ends up in a far different way than they thought they would be.
Unlike the Doc Savage books, these characters are well drawn for the pulps. Their interior dialogues are especially good.
The book goes by in a flash. I'm looking forward to my next Lester Dent book.