Several bloggers have commented on Lester Dent lately, and I happened to have had a copy of one of his books lying around for, oh, forty years or thereabouts, so I thought I'd read it.
It's not as if I haven't read Dent's work before. Back when the Doc Savage books were appearing from Bantam, I read quite a few of them. I've also read "Sail," the short story from Black Mask that gets reprinted often. But those things didn't prepare me for Cry at Dusk. Yikes. I don't know what I expected, but this wasn't it.
Let's just say that Dent must have had his copy of Psychopathia Sexualis open beside him as he typed. Can you read the blurb at the top of the cover? It's a clue to the contents. We all know what "corrupt and alien love" meant in the '50s, right? Well, I'll bet you never read a book from Beacon or the other "sex publishers" that's as strange as this one. I'd go so far as to say there wasn't another book in 1952 quite as weird and, yes, perverse. Not to mention "corrupt and alien." Even given the euphemisms of the time, Dent gets away with a lot here, more than I'd have thought possible.
The story itself is kind of goofy. It begins with Oliver Stringer becoming a college football hero, but Stringer's not really his name. He's Johnny Marks, and he and his Uncle Walter have been on the run for years. Johnny doesn't know why, and Uncle Walter won't tell him. When U. W. is murdered, we get a long flashback in which we learn about Johnny's past and his involvement with a girl named Jennifer and a kid named Hermie Bouncett. Hermie is the bad guy, and he's as bad, corrupt, and perverse as they come. But he likes Johnny. A lot. He also likes being hit and kicked. Johnny's afraid that he might be like Hermie. But he knows he likes Jennifer. It's a mess. And I mean the plot as well as the situation.
Back in the present, we finally find out the Big Secret. Johnny's U. W. never knew it, so why they had to keep moving is a mystery to me. I guess nobody believed him, so they just kept beating him up. You'd think they'd learn.
The climax (and I guess there are two of them, so to speak) comes down in the Caribbean, and at least one of them is oddly anti-climactic. But maybe that part of the plot's not what interested Dent. At any rate, I'm glad I finally picked this one up. It's a very '50s book, so be warned. And if you read it, I can guarantee you won't be sailing on any stranger seas than these for a good while.