Friday, March 27, 2009

Forgotten Books: AN EYE FOR AN EYE -- John B. West

John B. West, a West African doctor, must have wanted to be Mickey Spillane when he grew up.  As it is, he got to write a number of books about a New York P. I. called Rocky Steele.  As you can see from the title and blurb page of this book, West was a sincere imitator, and if that's not enough to convince you, here's the first paragraph: 

Tonight I got to thinking about people -- the people who hire me and my gun and my ways, the people I'm hired to find or trap, or beat up, or even kill -- and the people who live in safe, comfortable seclusion, never knowing how the other half dies. Maybe, I thought, all these people should get together, and me -- I'm just the guy to introduce them to each other, because I work with all three types every day. So it occurred to me to let the secluded half know what makes the other half tick -- and stop ticking.  Like the time I got that phone call . . . . 

Okay, I know it doesn't make much sense, but it's obviously a conscious attempt to ape the Spillane style.  West knows most of the words, but he hasn't got the tune.  West had a tin ear, and everything in the book shows it.  The dialogue is especially ripe.  I'll never forget the first time I stumbled on one of West's books, thinking it might be something to take the place of Spillane, who wasn't writing at the time.  Even as a callow youth, I knew that I what I was reading wasn't up to the master's level.  That it was, in fact, ludicrous.  

So John B. West is probably justifiably forgotten.  The thing is, though, that if you're in the right mood, reading one of his books can be kind of fun.  They're so bad that they have a fascination of their own.  If you were fifteen or so and wrote Mickey Spillane fan fiction, this is the kind of book you'd write.  Take a look at one sometime when you need a grin.


  1. Dr. West, meet Mr. Avallone.

  2. That excerpt sounds like the opening paragraph of MY GUN IS QUICK, as it might be imperfectly recalled and quoted by an inebriated fan in a bar at 2:30 in the morning.

  3. I loved these books when I was 13, because West was the most shameless Spillane imitator of all; but even then I knew they were lousy. Didn't stop me from scarfing them down like double-cheeseburgers.

  4. You gotta love Rocky Steele

  5. I enjoyed all 6 Rocky Steele books--and the covers of the different editions. Like Al Collins, I read them at a tender age.