Wednesday, February 7, 2018

FIRES THAT DESTROY by Harry Whittington

Pulpy Tagline: "A relentless, revealing search into the soul of a sinful woman."

Back in the 50's, the pulp paperbacks were filled with seedy noir tales of doomed men moving toward their own destruction through bad choices and usually as a result of the charms of a sexy and irresistible harpy preying on their sad weaknesses. With Fires That Destroy though, prolific pulp writer Harry Whittington turns this trope on its head. He focuses on the femme fatale herself and reverses the roles a bit, telling the story of a meek, mousy secretary named Bernice (think the Hitchcock secretaries, like Midge from Vertigo), who ends up killing her blind employer with the hopes of absconding with his 24,000 bucks, make herself over, and have everything that sexy girls have. So naturally she falls for the first pretty boy that winks at her, leading her down the path to hell.

This is like the "ANTI-feminist" novel, where Bernice spends so much of the novel pining and groveling after an asshole that does nothing but take advantage of her. But I loved that Whittington doesn't pull punches in making sure that a female noir protagonist back then would be just as sad and flawed as their male counterparts, falling ass-over-elbow for a dangerous man that will no doubt lead to her destruction. Bernice is an interesting character, guided by her insecurities and her expectations that money will buy her all the happiness that she believes you get when you're more attractive. But she soon realizes that murder money can only take you to one undeniable destination. And in this book, that destination is an ironic ending that I really adored. Time to read more Whittington!


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