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Deliver Me From Dallas

Charles Willeford

Dennis McMillan

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-939767-38-4

Publication Date: 07-01-2001

192 Pages; $30.00

Date Reviewed: 06-30-03

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel (c) 2003





Great writing always kicks your ass, regardless of when it was penned. We read and respond to the quality of 'The Odyssey', 'The Iliad', 'The Trial' and 'The Maltese Falcon' even here in a future that was unimaginable when those books were written. 'Deliver Me From Dallas', the first novel by Charles Willeford, finally found publication under the author's title in 2001 under the care of publisher Dennis McMillan. Originally published as 'Whip Hand' in 1961 with the author attribution W. Franklin Sanders, 'Deliver Me From Dallas' languished in a box of the author's papers for some fifty years. The story of how the book found publication is quite fascinating and outlined in Jesse Sublett's gripping introduction. But the novel itself outstrips all expectations. Willeford comes out with two fists and doesn't stop the pummeling until the last page. If you're looking for an amoral slice of hard-boiled life to fry your eyes and leave you spinning, you couldn't do much better than Willeford's first novel.

Bill Brown is an LA cop who loses his temper, runs for it and finds himself in penniless in Dallas, with only the suit on his back and the sweat on his skin. That doesn't last for long when he pulls a bus-station scam and ends up with a lot more than he expected. Junior Knowles is a murderous Okie, a human snake - if you want to give snakes a bad name. His plans are coming unraveled faster than his agile but scattered mind can comprehend. Both of them will regret their trip to Dallas.

Willeford's novel is written in a style that seems familiar and remarkably original. Instead of the usual round-robin if third person perspectives, we get alternating first-person narrations, as each character lines up to tell a different part of the story. As the tales overlap and undercut one another, a chance series of events leads to murder, torture, chaste sex and a very bad attitude. Willeford pulls off his unraveling plot with excellent prose constructs for each character to tell a tale. Junior Knowles is written with the ferocity of Flannery O'Connor in an Oakie-speak slang. Bill Brown is the dull but brawny LA cop who pulls together the story. Kay Haas is the hot number with bullwhip illustrated on the paperback original.

'Deliver Me From Dallas' reads like lightning. Willeford pulls the reader along effortless and never lingers too long in one voice. It's remarkable that the narration style he develops for this book hasn't been oft copied since the publication of 'Whip Hand'. Even though it's well past its sell-by date, the violence remains nicely shocking, while the sex remains thankfully chaste and off-stage. Willeford's string of random events has the ring of truth even as it closes on an amoral grace note. This is the kind of crime spree we read about once a month, quickly sensationalized, quickly forgotten. But in Willeford's words, the story takes on the proportions of a minor myth.

McMillan brings his usual skills to the publication of this book. The cover art is pitch-perfect and Sublett's introduction offers up the mystery and solution that the story itself evades. 'Deliver Me From Dallas' deserves every bit of effort that McMillan put into this beautiful book. If you look forward to a short serving of sordid, you can't do any better than 'Deliver Me From Dallas'.