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 score.
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 going.
This review was written in the long ago, and this is a slightly altered version.