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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Honey in his Mouth

Lester Dent

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To purchase Honey in his Mouth

Title: Honey in his Mouth
Author: Lester Dent
Genre: Novel
Written: (2009)
Length: 248 pages
Availability: Honey in his Mouth - US
Honey in his Mouth - UK
Honey in his Mouth - Canada
  • Although written in 1956, Honey in his Mouth was first published only in 2009

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable noir of petty grifter who gets in way over his head

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Walter Harsh's troubles begin when he crosses paths with someone he owes money to at a gas station. A car chase ensues, and Harsh is lucky to come away from it no worse (he thinks) than with a badly broken arm. All he cares about is distancing himself from the debt he can't repay -- a few hundred dollars -- and any connection to the man he owed it to; little does he realize that he's about to be involved in something much, much bigger.
       Harsh is a small-time grifter, and he has difficulties thinking large. It's served him fairly well so far: he's managed never to be arrested -- or at least not to be taken seriously enough when he's had his run-ins with the law for them to bother, say, fingerprinting him. He is a photographer, and he runs a fairly harmless not-quite-scam, together with his front-girl, the young Vera Sue Crosby, going from town to town. Vera has a weakness for Benedictine (fancy-label booze) and is quite attached to her meal-ticket, though they're not exactly a happy couple.
       Harsh doesn't like being stuck in hospital, especially when the police come nosing around (and suggest that he's committed statutory rape by transporting an underage girl -- Vera -- over state lines). Then there's his rare blood-type, O-negative, and the fact that someone else has been showing around a picture bearing an awfully strong resemblance to him.
       Harsh is always on the look-out for a quick buck, but he just can't think big -- and the sinister Mr. Brother who comes to visit him recognizes that instantly:

"Mr. Harsh, the only way I will deal with you is to buy you. I do not care to work with you on any other basis. I buy you or nothing. You are a cheap man, so buying you will not be expensive. Get it straight -- I buy you or I have nothing to do with you."
       Harsh lets himself be bought really cheap (even Vera does better) but then is offered some real money: $50,000, cash. As Brother explains:
I have been searching for a man to fit a certain exact description. The man must look exactly like the picture you've seen. He must have O-negative blood. The man must be of near-criminal character, and he must be for sale.
       Harsh fits the bill, and he lets himself be bought -- though the threat of a little blackmail helps convince him.
       It turns out that Harsh is the spitting image -- except for a facial scar that's easily re-created -- of El Presidente, your typical South American dictator. El Presidente is having some problems back home, but more significantly, he's been embezzling funds and having Brother and his cohorts hide them away in foreign bank accounts and the like. Now Brother and his cohorts are planning to two-time El Presidente and get the immense amounts of cash for themselves. For that they need a double -- and Harsh fits the bill.
       They hide Harsh away in luxurious surroundings -- along with Vera, who knows a little too much -- and proceed with their preparations, including trying to teach Harsh passable Spanish and a surgical procedure to provide him with a scar. Harsh knows what the deal is, but he only has eyes for the $50,000 that's hidden in a safe in his room: he knows the combination, but the safe can only be opened with two keys as well; Harsh has one of them, but Brother is holding on to the other one. Rather than working towards a bigger cut of the enormous El Presidente-payday Harsh just wants to hightail it out of there with his 50K -- an obsession that eventually gets in the way of the plan. The fact that El Presidente's political (though not financial) fortune is going south quicker than anticipated also poses problems.
       Honey in his Mouth has some nice premises, and the bigger plot -- to steal El Presidente's-stash -- is, if somewhat over-elaborate and complicated, an entertaining one. Harsh, however, is almost unbelievably obtuse. Rather than casting his lot with the folks who hold his future in their hands anyway all he can think about is the almost trivial amount that's nearer but no easier to get to. Harsh is also not a nice guy, especially in how he treats Vera -- the woman he's worked with in the past, and who has already put up with quite a bit from him. Instead of teaming up with her again he just gives her more reasons to turn on him.
       "I never ran across such a wild scheme before", Harsh says -- but his own harebrained scheme to get at his $50,000 is pretty wild too, and brings the whole plan crashing down. It gets a bit silly and there are a few too many convenient coincidences, but the concluding twists are very satisfying as both best and worst laid plans here go wildly astray. Unsympathetic Harsh gets his comeuppance, too, in a nice and typical noir conclusion; Dent presumably conceived the whole story just with this particular concluding scene in mind, but he does a decent job of it, and most of the ride is almost as much fun.
       The fact that Harsh is petty and unsympathetic makes him a somewhat problematic patsy: he's neither a true innocent to root for, nor sufficiently evil (unlike Brother ...) that one gleefully cheers at his downfall. But the various machinations and quite a few of the characters are entertaining, and Dent writes a good, fast-paced story: Honey in his Mouth is a very solid pulp-thriller.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 October 2009

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Honey in his Mouth: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American pulp-fiction writer Lester Dent lived 1904 to 1959.

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© 2009 the complete review

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