I’ll Call Every Monday (Red Lantern Books and Avon #55, 1953)
Orrie Hitt’s first novel, published in hardback by Red Lantern Books (an imprnt of Vanguard Press) in 1953, the same year the same publisher also put out Love in the Arctic.
Apparently, according to Brian Ritt’s biographic article, Orrie Hitt had to hit the pavement on his own in Manhattan and find a publisher when his agent didn’t have any luck selling it, or didn’t feel it would attract a commercial publisher because of the sexual content, the breasts, etc.
On the back cover of Love in the Arctic is promo —
I’ll Call Every Monday has all the elements we find in future books by Hitt, as if this novel acted as a primer for the Hitt universe:
1. A big tall hero.
2. A man juggling several women at the same time.
3. A gorgeous young woman married to an older man.
4. An insurance con.
5. A murder plot.
6. Women sucked into the the dirty photograph racket
7. A small town in upper NY state setting
8. The scandalous goings-ons of summer resort hotels
Nicky Weaver, the narrator, 31-years-old, is your average insurance salesman doing his best to earn an honest living. He’s moral, he’s lonely, he likes women and booze. He’s big and can throw a good punch.
At first, Hitt doesn’t provide enough information on the insurace biz and all the terminology is confusing, but you get the gyst of it all 1/3 into the book. Back then, or at least in small towns, insurance companies did not mail out invoices for weekly/monthly premiums, but the salesman went door-to-door to collect, and they didn’t always collect those quarters and dollars, so had to push people to keep their policies up.
It’s a strange biz, but seems people and companies made money. One scam a salesman can do is make out a fake policy, fork over the first payment from his pocket (just a dollar or two) but collect on the entire commission, then claim the policy holder went bust. Another salesman, Dell, has done this with nearly 400 policies, using names on gravestones. When he’s caught, unable to pay the company back, he hangs himself.
Nicky jumbles two women — there’s 19-year-old Sally from the rooming house, whose virginity he takes (many Hitt heroes often deflower some girl, as seen in The Lady is a Lush, Hired Lover, Violent Sinners, etc.). She hails from Port Jervis, NY (Hitt’s home town) to sing at a jazz club, but seems they want her to wear risque clothes or no clothes at all; so Nicky helps her get a job at a summer resort hotel, where he rents out a cabin until Labor Day (cost: $500 plus a job for Sally), preferring it to the rooming house, plus he can hit up the summer crowd to sell policies to.
The other woman is Irene, 22, married to a much older man who is a painter. On the outside, it appears the man makes good money selling his paintings, but Nicky finds out he doesn’t — their posh house was inherted from his dead brother, and the guy makes money selling nudie photos of his gorgeous wife. Every Monday he goes into New York City to sell sets of photos @ $5 a set. Nicky starts up an affair with Irene, going to see her each Monday (hence the title) after his collection rounds.
When he learns of the photo racket, he’s disgusted. Irene tells him she’s disgusted too, she thought her husband was taking the photos to use to paint from — or so she claims. Seems her husband also has cancer and maybe a year left to live, so the two cook up an insurance scam to collect on him.
Alas, as in many Hitt books — and noir stories in general — the scam does not go off as planned, there are double crosses and surprises.
This isn’t Hitt’s best, but for a first novel it’s damn good. I found it better to have read some of his other work in the late 50s and early 60s, hen go back to 1953, to get a feel and taste for the evolution of his style and progress, as well as the similarity of pet themes.
This one also seems to be somewhat more autobiographical than the others, as any first novel tends to be — Nicky makes references to being in the army and working in Iceland, both elements from Hitt’s life, and Nicky is originally from Port Jervis.
It’s never stated how tall Nicky is, but the women make a few references to his being “big and tall.” This fantasy alter-ego continues in many Hitt books, and is interesting to consider when Hitt himself was short (5’5″) and, according to Barry Malzberg in an email he sent me, “a jolly old fat guy.”
The typical Hitt hero is between 6’2″ and 6’6″, between the ages of 20-35, single, and always lucky with the ladies (and the typical Hitt female always has a bust size between 38-40 inches).
Are there any Hitt heroes who are under six feet, overweight, not good in a fight, non-drinkers, and any women who are flat chested, aside from the occasional wallflower, barfly, or hooker that pops up now and then? Or any woman who is over the age of 22? (They’re often 18-19, many virgins until they are popped by the big Hitt hero.)
Nicky Weaver returns in Ladies’ Man, which I will get to soon. As for the private eye books “Weaver” writes for Kozy, I’m not sure yet if Nicky goes from insurance man to gumshoe, or just from insurance man to pulp author, but I will get to those too.
And will get to the novel Red Lantern published the same year as this one, Love in the Arctic, that was never issued in paperback. Glancing through it, it seems to be a tad “different,” set in Iceland. In his third published novel, Teaser (Woodford Press, 1954) he only lists I’ll Call Every Monday as a previous book. After that, he collaborates (like others did, such as John B. Thompson) with Jack Woodford on a novel called Lease (Signature Books, 1954) and then started his long relationship with Beacon Books with She Got What She Wanted and Shabby Street (both 1954).
In 1956-57, he started writing as Roger Normandie and Charles Verne for Key Publications, doing a handful hardbacks, none under his name — not sure why, but he may have had an exclusive deal or non-compete agreement with Beacon, as he only published with Beacon as Orrie Hitt until 1959, when he started selling manuscripts to Midwood, Kozy, and Chariot Books, with many titles to each from 1960-63. He did one as Fred Martin for Midwood (Hired Lover), probably because it was Midwood #13 and he already had two under his own name — Affair with Lucy (Midwood #10) and Summer Romance (Midwood #16), all three published in 1959. For Kozy, the publisher reprinted a few of the Roger Normandies and two by Nicky Weaver.
In 1959, Hitt also published two hardbacks with Valentine Books, Hotel Woman and Devil in the Flesh. In 1960, there was one from Wisdm House, Peeping Tom.
It’s possible he may have used some other pen names not yet known. He was apparently infuenced by Joe Weiss, and Joe Weiss’ style and themes are close to Hitt’s. Accoring to Ritt’s article and Hitt’s children, some of his manuscripts were absconded with by shady publishers, never paid for, and appeared under a pen name and not the title he chose (would love to find out which books those are).