Today's "Forgotten Books" posts are about Donald E. Westlake, in anticipation of the publication The Comedy is Finished by Hard Case Crime. Westlake could (and did) write just about everything, including a number of sleaze books. This is a repeat of an earlier post, but I felt it fit today's theme well.
I don't know if Donald E. Westlake used the Edwin West name often, but he used it on at least five books for Monarch in the early '60s. One of them was Campus Doll.
Westlake and Lawrence Block wrote a lot of books like this for various sleaze publishers, and they (and others) shared a few in-jokes. For example, the setting of this book is Clifton College, which figures in many of Block's novels from around the same time. If you can believe these books, Clifton was indeed a swinging campus. There's also a mention of a lousy movie called A Sound of Distant Drums, which turns up all the time. Charles Ardai even pays homage to it in his recent Fifty-to-One. [It's mentioned in The Comedy is Finished, too.]
The plot here is similar (very similar) to numerous other books from this period by Westlake and Block. Jackie's a not-so-nice girl whose parents can suddenly not afford to send her to Clifton. Her date for the evening, the rascally Rick Marshall, suggests that she start charging for what she used to give for free. "That'll be ten dollars, Rick," she says, and her new career has begun.
Jackie is quite the businesswoman, and Rick turns into a brutal pimp. When the business expands, Jackie takes in another woman, Rita, and Jackie suddenly realizes that all her trouble is caused by men. She decides that what she needs is a good woman. Before long (this is a short book, and nothing takes long), Jackie has a house full of women, one of whom is working with Rick to sell (gasp!) marijuana. One of the profs from Clifton falls for Jackie. Then things start to go wrong all at once. Jackie decides that the way out is to have the prof kill Rick. And so on. There's no happy ending here, folks. It reminded me of nothing so much as the ending of a hot-rod novel by Henry Gregor Felsen.
It's always interesting to read something by a favorite writer from the period when he was starting out. Campus Doll isn't going to win any literary prizes, and it's not going to do a thing to increase Westlake's reputation. It was probably written very quickly. Maybe over the weekend. But it's slick and short and fun to read as a literary and cultural artifact. It has a nice cover, too.