On Easy Terms by Kay Martin. Berkley Medallion (1960), 143 pp.
Ace publicist Brad Lathrop still feels culpable for the boating accident that led to the death of his wife and the permanent brain damage of his young daughter. To earn enough money to keep the girl institutionalized, he takes on the publicity campaign for Sunrise Ranchos, a dubious real estate venture in the desert east of Indio. His boss, enthusiastic but unscrupulous Nick Mayes, loves Brad’s work. But the office manager, Brad’s alluring and unconventional ex-girlfriend, Denise Wyatt, has qualms about the whole project. Meanwhile, Brad reestablishes contact with his sister-in-law, shy and straitlaced Ellen Haskell. He starts to imagine a quiet, responsible life with her, but he’s unable to reject the idea of hooking up with Denise again.
Martin mixes together some unusual elements to produce a surprisingly successful novel. The main characters are not quite familiar. Brad Lathrop, the guilt-ridden protagonist, seems genuinely unsure how his life should proceed. Nick Mayes, the otherwise reprehensible land swindler, never loses his optimism and good cheer. Denise Wyatt, the late-twenties babe with wounds to bind, retains her integrity and sense of self-worth. The contrasting settings, the lovely psychiatric facility with its altruistic staff and the barren desert tract swarming with shifty salesmen, are rendered with knowing detail. Scenes with Brad’s daughter are strikingly poignant, while the final shindig for prospective customers may bring to mind The Day of the Locust. If readers run across a copy of the book somewhere, they’re well advised to snap it up.