SHOTGUN BLAST FROM THE PAST: A HAVEN FOR THE DAMNED by HARRY WHITTINGTON
When Stark House Press started their Black Gat series of pocket size paperback reprints, picking Harry Whittington's A Haven For The Damned proved to be a good choice for the first book. Whittington wrote tight, intense stories, that carried a noir outlook no matter what genre he toiled in. This lesser known title of his, shows him attempting to expand his spinner rack craft.
He kicks off his yarm with two robbers, Fletch and Poole, rushing out of the Yucca National Bank with one of the tellers, Matt Bishop, as hostage. Matt catches bullet in the gut as they flee and they high tail it to a ghost town near the Mexican border, populated only by a middle aged uranium prospector, Jack Cordell, and George, his mean dog.
Soon others arrive to the place. Harve Duncan and his mistress, Milly, get lost on their way to Mexico and cross paths with the robbers. So does Reed, Milly's husband who was hot on the trail of the couple. Matt's wife, Susan also arrives after Fletch and Poole get word to her so she can help them get their money across the border in exchange for her husband. Fletch and Poole keep everyone under their guns in an abandoned hotel and tension mounts.
Whittington's experience in several genres comes to play. This could easily have been a western with it's bank robbers on the run holed up, with the law coming down. MIlly and harve could have arrived on a runaway stage. Whittington uses the desolate arid land to isolate his group. He also employs many tropes from the kitchen sink melodrama. The bold emotions of the couples play against the cold ones possessed by the criminals. Much of the suspense comes from who will end up with who as much as who will live. He also uses his genre knowledge to play off reader the reader expectations her sets up.
These twists also play into Whittington's interest in human behavior. His naming the ghost town Lust proves to be on the nose as characters pursue and are possessed by their pursuits s for fortune, freedom, flesh, love, and, for everyone, survival. he puts these folks in a place with a bag of cash and a threat to their lives, boiling them down to who they are, creating heroes and villains you may not expect.
If not working at the height of his powers, A Haven For The Damned operates at the hight of Harry Whittington's concerns. The ensemble approach waters down his usual hard focus on plot and emotion, but he uses it for interesting alliance shifts. He uses the crime potboiler to examine relationships, the facades they carry, and what happens when they crumble.