Dial “M” for Man (Beacon, 1958)

Hitt - Dial M for Man

First off, another excellent novel by our pal Orrie. The only thing that bugged me was the title, as it makes no sense to the story; apparently Beacon wanted to cash in on the similarity to Hitchcock’s film, Dial “M” for Murder, based on William Knott’s 1952 stage play, which gave birth to dozens of imitations in the genre.

MIt’s about a man arranging the murder of his wife.  In Dial “M” for Man, a a woman arranges the murder of her husband — yes, she’s a 22 year old former convention girl and her husband, Ferris Condon, is 60 and a wealthy real estate crook.  He builds crappy houses and sticks them to suckers.  He’s made a killing, and is on the board of the local bank of Hawley, NY, a small town of 15,000 people.

The narrator is Hob Sampson, a TV repair and salesman.  TV repairmen always meet interesting women, it seems, as we found in Gil Brewer’s The Vengeful Virgin, reviewed here. Hob meets Doris Condon, the 22-year-old blonde wife, while on a service call.

Unlike Hitt’s other heroes, Hob is not jumbling three women; in fact he seems to avoid them.  There’s Kathy, whom he has been casually dating, and one night he takes hr virginity, or so she says.  She has also suckered him out of $300, saying she needed it for a job change.

When Doris makes a move on him, he turns her down. He does this twice, because he knows she’s trouble — married, too young, all he sees is hell down the road. But he finally gives in, mainly to get back at her husband.

Hob has been trying to get a bank loan to buy the building where he rents space for his business. He wants to expand. The bank turns him down, at Condon’s request.  Seems a long time back, Hob’s father was a real estate inspector and had given bad marks to many of Condon’s shabby houses, costing him a lot of money.  Condon wishes to get back at the man by ruining the son.

Condon also buys the building and tells Hob he needs to get out.  So ob turns around and fucks his young wife.  Only he falls for her, and she asks him to kill Condon for a number of reasons: not only will she get his wealth, but Hob can buy the building from her for nothing,  and Condon won’t be able to mess with Hob anymore at the bank.

Hob can’t kill Condon, as much as he hates the old man; he is not a killer. But he has an idea: get his former business partner Ben to do it.  Ben is in a bad way and needs money.  Their partnership ended because Ben would not turn in the repair visit money, instead spending it on booze and b-girls and married women cheating.  Ben has a vice: he likes to get drunk and he will sleep with “anyone under 50.”  He’s jobless, his truck is breaking down, he’s broke, and he’s knocked up a 16 year old girl who needs $300 for an abortion; if her parents find out, she will be disowned and he will go to jail for statutory rape.

Of course, he’s being played and all goes haywire…

This is a vivid book about desperate people. Hob is desperate to be a successful small business man, and then gets desperate for a woman who is a lying wench — what does he expect from a hooker?  His ex-partner is so desperate for money that he agrees to kill Condon for $2,000 — with the money he can skip town and all his problems, start new.  The teenager he knocked up is desperate, so much so that she dies from a botched abortion.

Hitt also shows how hard it is for a person to run a small business in a small town, as he’s shown in other books like Bad Wife and Bold Affair.

On the Hitt Scale, this one is a 9.5 and recommended for a good read.

A note: the copy I read was an Australian edition. The paperback size was bigger than usual, and the spelling within was Aussie style — “tyre” for “tire,” etc.

Hitt - Dial M for Man Aussie ed

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