My friend Pete Brandvold, who has also become an Orrie Hitt fan, recommended this one to me, and I’m glad he did because, as usual, it’s a fine yarn. The protagonist is Butch Hagen, a former carnival worker and truck driver who really prefers working on farms. He’s been shacking up in a small town with another former carny, the beautiful stripper Lucy Ellis, when he finds work on the very misnamed Friendly Farms, owned by brutal Clay Billings. Butch leaves Lucy to go work on the farm, where he finds that Billings has a beautiful niece named Candy. There’s another farmhand who has a beautiful redheaded girlfriend named Sherry, and on the next farm over there’s a hot-to-trot farmer’s daughter named Mae who happens to be a little underage . . .
Well, if you’ve read very many of these softcore sleaze novels, you’ll know how most of these plot elements are going to intertwine. And if you’re read much of Orrie Hitt’s work, you’ll find some of his familiar themes in DIRT FARM. But there are several things about this one that make it an excellent novel and well worth reading. For one, Hitt’s writing is really smooth and fast in DIRT FARM. He was a master at keeping the reader flipping the pages and this book is a prime example of that. For another, he throws in a noirish crime element reminiscent of James M. Cain and then proceeds to milk it for all the suspense it’s worth. Despite the predictability of some of the plot, I really didn’t have any idea how this book was going to end, and that’s rare. And finally, Hitt was among the best ever at writing about the desperation that fills most people, even the seemingly successful ones. Everybody in a Hitt novel wants something, needs something, is missing something. A lucky few find whatever it is that they’re seeking, but plenty of others don’t.
DIRT FARM isn’t as personal a book as some of Hitt’s other novels, so you don’t get his digressions about censorship and government, and not much about morality. But it reads like the wind and tells a compelling, if slightly formulaic, story. I had a great time reading it and recommend it for fans of hardboiled sleaze in general and Orrie Hitt in particular.
Andy Weir: By the Book - The New York Times
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