The Cheaters (Midwood, 1960)

Hitt - Cheaters

On a scale of 1-10, The Cheaters is an 11.  This, dear readers, is Mr. Orrest Hitt at his finest hour (or week, as he penned them fast).

To top off an excellent novel is an equally excellent cover image by Mr. Paul Rader at his erotically finest. Look at how the man touches her, and look at her facial response…juices are oozing, baby…

This is a novel of top notch crime noir and Hitt could have easily sold this to Gold Medal instead.  There is surprisingly little sex in it for a Midwood, and focuses more on dirty cops and a working schmoe trying to make a buck among the drunks and hookers.

Clint and Amy have left their going-nowhere farm life realities and moved into a port town, have a room, and are trying to survive, $10 between the two of them left.  She gets a job in a diner during the days and he gets a night bartender job in an area called The Dells, the slum zone of town where one goes for booze, heroin, and whores.  They hardly see each other but they are making money.

Clint is your usual Hitt hero: over six feet tall, 190 pounds, tough and all muscle, and good-looking.  The owner of the bar, a man in his 50s, is married to a younger bombshell in her 20s, Debbie.  Of course, something sparks up between the two, and of course, she wants to find a way to knock off her husband and get all his investment and insurance policy money.

This book has a true villain, a nemesis for our hero, an element usually not in Hitt’s books where everthing is not so black and white.  Red Brandon is a police detective assigned to The Dells but works more as pimp and mob man than cop.  He collects payments from all the porstitutes, clubs, bars, drug pushers — anyone who makes a buck in The Dells, he makes sure he gets his cut.  If someone does not cooperate, Brandon will frame them for a crime, beat them up, or kill them and toss them into the ocean.

Clint finds out just how hard the squeeze his when he takes over ownership of the bar, making payments from the profits.  Soon the cop squeezes him for $100 a week for the booze, some for the girls who work the bar, and he gets money from the girls too, with an extra payment in sex.  They all say he’s a pig and can’t stand sex with him.

Brandon is after Debbie but she voids him.  When he finds out Clint is sneaking off with her, he warns Clint away but Clint has s smart mouth; so Brandon cuts Clint’s face up, leaving scars so his handsome visage is no longer so handsome.  Clint decides he will exact revenge on the cop one day, but he has to be careful because the dirty cop could frame him so that he spends 20 years or more behind bars.

At this point Clint has abandoned Amy, who is pregnant, because he wnats Debbie, so he doesn’t seem like such a good guy after all, hypnotized by a pair of size 40 boobs, blonde hair, and a red hot snatch. But this happens to the best of Hitt heroes, they get sucked up in the fanatsy of a woman…this is something in fiction that the feminists detest: women’s seuality reslting in the downfall of a man. (My ex- used to nag on me for having that in my fiction a lot: “the pussy does not always mean a man’s downward spiral.”  Oh yeah?)

Of course, Debbie has been settng up Clint as a patsy, working in cahoots with Red Brandon — this one is not so obvious and we’re taken for a loop here. And for al his tough guy talk, at the pivital moment Clint loses his bravery to kill Brandon and set up Debbie’s husband for the crime.

We do see the bad guy get his — Brandon’s crimes are brought to light and he’s arrested, and Clint, repenting from the errors of his ways, his vile sins, goes back to pregnant Amy.

The prose is far more terse than usual Hitt, on par with Hired Lover — perhaps Hitt had a good editor at Midwood (Elaine Willism?) who trimmed the fat and reptition found in some Hitt books.

If there is to ever be a Orrie Hitt omnibus — and I am working on this to be so — The Cheaters is a definite contender for inclusion.

5 Responses to “The Cheaters (Midwood, 1960)”

  1. I agree that The Cheaters is a terrific read and one of the best Hitt’s I have read. Having just finished Hired Lover last night, I lean toward favoring that one as the better of the two if simply for the ending. In The Cheaters, Hitt resorts to his usual pattern of hero ending up with good girl. In Hired Lover, that ain’t so. Not wanting to give away the ending, but i found it as strong as any i have read in quite some time and compare it to the way Cain ended Double Indemnity – in terms of an affect that resonates. I woke up this morning still thinking about it.

  2. I mis-wrote earlier. Regarding Hired Lover, I meant to say, hero doesn’t end up happily-ever-after with good girl.

  3. […] Cheaters by Orrie Hitt Reviewed here. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Taboos Thrills/Warped Woman by Orrie HittTell Them […]

  4. […] As Bad as They Come (#23) – all published in 1959.  1960 would see A Doctor and His Mistress and The Cheaters and Two of a […]

  5. […] If this one wasn’t listed at various places as having been penned by Donald Westlake, I would have thought it was one of Block’s Lords.  I believe it is the only Sheldon Lord penned exclusively by Westlake.  The only reason I can think that it wasn’t published as an Alan Marshall is that Midwood #36 is Marshal’s Virgin Summer and either Midwood or the Meredith Agency didn’t want two Marshals out back to back (#34 before it is Orrie Hitt’s excellent The Cheaters, one if his best). […]

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