Stark House Press
released a reprint of a 1952 Fawcett Red Seal original titled One for Hell written by Jada M. Davis
back in 2010. Davis is a writer I wasn’t familiar with and after reading it, I
really don’t know why. It is terrific and one of the best hardboiled noir tales
I’ve read. It resembles the work of two pulp writers, W. L. Heath—particularly Violent Saturday—and Jim Thompson. It
has the violence and dark shadows of Thompson and the sociology of secrets that
Heath did so well.
Willa Ree is a drifter
and a petty criminal riding the rails toward a small Texas boomtown. His plan
is simple: fleece the town and move on. What happens is beyond Ree’s
expectations. The town is a gold mine, and he just may stick around for a big
One for Hell
is pure entertainment. There isn’t a protagonist. The supporting cast, Willa
Ree is the main player (and he’s pure bastard), come and go like visitors to an
amusement park. One by one they ratchet the pressure on Ree until he is ready
to break. And one by one Ree pushes them aside until he no longer can.
The plot is tight and
woven with a sophistication of character, morality and corruption. The town has
secrets—everyone has something to hide and Ree uses this underlying human
weakness to his advantage. He culls his enemies from the herd and eliminates
them. He has a girlfriend who is an arch-type of the flawed woman. She possesses
strengths and the weaknesses alike, but she is mostly good.
The action is developed
with an audacity that separates this novel from so many others of its type. There
is a scene in the middle part of the novel that covers 18 pages that changed my
view of what can be done with both violence and action in a prose story. It
rolled like a freight train and changed Ree from a smalltime hoodlum to a big
time psychopath. It was the crux of the story, the beginning of the end for
Willa Ree, and the push that leads the reader into his twisted mind.
Everything works in One for Hell. From the plot to the characters
to the psychology to the prose and it wraps itself together in a tight weave.
Willa Ree spends much of his time trying to guess the actions and motives of
other people and the internal dialogue is simple and interesting:
“Maybe the old woman knew. Or maybe
she found it, though not likely. Baldy wasn’t a trusting sort of person, and
she wouldn’t have guessed he had money in the first place. He sat on the trunk
and surveyed the room. Pictures? Too simple.”
One for Hell
is solid proof that Stark House is the best publishers of classic crime fiction
This review was written
in the long ago, and this is a slightly altered version.