NOT SO INNOCENT: A REVIEW OF JONATHAN CRAIG'S SO YOUNG, SO WICKED
If David Goodis wrote Lolita, you might get something like So Young, So Wicked. Jonathan Craig's sordid tale of a hitman with a unique target probably shocked those that picked it up off a 1957 spinner rack. Even reading Stark House's reissue on their Black Gat Books gives an uneasy feel today.
Craig starts with perfect noir hero who is screwed even before the story starts. Steve Garrity is a musician who once killed a man in passion. The Syndicate pulled some strings and greased some palms to cancel his trip to the gas chamber. In return, he must pull hits for them or they'll rub him out. To make matters worse, his latest contract is Leda Nolan, a fifteen year old girl.
Ordered to make it look like an accident, Steve drives to her small town of Garrensville under the guise of of opening a music store. He starts a relationship with Nancy wilson, an aunt Leda lives with. Soon he meets his prey and he is placed in an even darker emotional spot-
The picture Licardi had shown him back in New York hadn't told him the whole story, Steve saw. It had told him Leda was beautiful, but it hadn't conveyed the young-girl freshness of her skin, or the light brown hair that had just a tinge of red in it where a ray of sunlight struck it, or the blue eyes that were so dark that at first they seemed almost purple. .And even her loose plaid shirt and faded blue jeans only served to enhance the full-blown curves beneath them.
It won't be the last time Steve describes her in that matter. He wants to know why The Syndicate wants her rubbed out. What he discovers is a femme fatale already formed. A triangle builds between Nancy, Leda, and him, trapping the reluctant killer into a kill or be killed situation,
Few come out of this book clean. Craig undermines the idea of bucolic small town America with Garrensville having enough sex, violence, and back stabbing to give New York City a run for its money. The first townsperson Steve meets whispers gossip to him about the other citizens. Even the kids coming out of the movie theater aren't innocent.
The story works like a nightmarish fever dream. Craig taps into a vibe of desperation as everything closes in on Steve. Anytime he thinks he has found salvation, it slams the door on him. The only door open to him leads to Hell that's waiting for him. Part of his attraction to Leda may be to that of a fellow sinner.
So Young, So Wicked is one of the sleazier feeling books where fifties noir was known for its luridness. That said, there are few horrid or transgressive acts portrayed. Craig explores the dark emotions connected with lust and past sin, bringing them out as demons on his characters shoulders. Possibly the readers as well.