It looks as though I'll be reading novels by H. Vernor Dixon off and on for the next several months. I liked Cry Blood quite a bit and decided to order eight of his other books from the 1950s. All except Something for Nothing are paperback originals. Dixon doesn't seem to have gotten much attention among the aficionados noir fiction, so I'll be interested to see if he deserves some fans.
Something for Nothing by H. Vernor Dixon. Harper and Brothers (1950), 240 pp.
Gil Devon, erstwhhile army pilot and movie bit player, is a handsome guy with a stylish wardrobe, classy car and abundant self-confidence. What he lacks are money and a job. On a drive up the coast to San Francisco he watches an automobile sail off the road into the ocean. The driver escapes, and he takes her back home to the nearby Carmel-like town of Bayside. He soon learns that she is Belle Gassner, wife of the owner of a gambling casino and other popular nightspots. And he learns that her husband has disappeared. He quickly sees blackmail prospects. But the money, power and status that turn out to be available far exceed his fondest dreams. Ordinarily, it's not so simple to get something for nothing. At some point Devon may need to pay a price for his good luck and clever scheming.
This novel reimagines the story of Jay Gatsby as a noir tale of double-dealing. To the upper crust of Bayside Gil Devon may have appeared to "drift coolly out of nowhere" to a position of prominence. But to readers, who have been following Devon's maneuvers since his arrival in town, his ascent will be remarkable but not surprising. He continually turns the weaknesses of others into opportunities for himself. Eventually, neither his murky background nor his source of wealth (the Gassner gambling operation) stymies his entry into the social elite. Corruption leads to success, the author seems to be saying, because society itself is corrupt. All of this just provides background -- and familiar background at that -- for a fast-moving, cleverly plotted tale of action and suspense. Fans of noir fiction, though not necessarily those of The Great Gatsby, are likely to enjoy the book.