Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Badge of Evil: Whit Masterson

Rudy Linneker, a very rich man in a large border town in California (San Diego?), is blown up by sticks of dynamite thrown into his house. The immediate suspects are Linneker's daughter and her fiancé, since Linneker was dead set against their relationship. But Assistant DA Mitch Holt insists that the case does not feel right, and starts investigating in a different direction. Eventually he uncovers corruption in the police department, but loses the support of his superiors who doubt his findings.

This book is best known today as the basis for Orson Welles' film, Touch of Evil. Whit Masterson was one pseudonym used by Robert Wade and Bill Miller. They wrote many books together in the 1940s and 50s, many of them under the name Wade Miller.

Although I had not seen the film Touch of Evil before reading this book, I assumed the book would be gritty and violent and noirish. The book was actually more on the hard-boiled side. If this is a typical book by these two authors, I would love to read more of their books. I found it to be an entertaining hard-boiled story with a great protagonist. The hero could be considered too perfect, too much of a straight arrow, yet I really liked his perseverance at a time when many people turn against him. Most people would yield to majority opinion or be afraid to buck the system. Some reviewers considered this book bland and too tame, not hard-boiled enough.


The book was also an interesting look at life after the war in the US. ADA Holt's career was put on hold due to time served in the military both during World War II and the Korean War.

In the film, Orson Welles takes the basic story and turns it around. The plot becomes something entirely different, focusing more on Mexican gangs and drugs. The DA becomes a Mexican agent exposing a drug cartel and his wife is a US citizen; it explores issues of racism to a greater extent than in the book. I found it interesting that the film is much darker than the book. In my experience, it is usually the other way around.


There are three different versions of the film available on Blu Ray, the version as released in theaters, with much of Welles' footage cut, a reconstructed version based on notes from Welles, and a preview version. We watched the original release version, but plan on watching the other two versions also.

I enjoyed the film. There are wonderful small roles played by Dennis Weaver, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor, etc. It includes a famous opening tracking shot which was very impressive.

For more information about the authors, see the Thrilling Detective website. Sergio discusses the book and film at Tipping My Fedora.


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Publisher:  Prologue Books, 2013 (orig. publ. 1956)
Length:     204 pages
Format:    Trade paperback
Setting:    Southern California, close to the Mexican border
Genre:      Mystery
Source:    I purchased my copy

20 comments:

  1. would like to read this book and watch the movie

    Regards
    Shalet

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    1. I agree, Shalet, you should do both. I liked both of them a lot, and they are very different.

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  2. Interesting, isn't it, Tracy, how a book and film can be quite different, in their ways, but both be really appealing. I'm glad you enjoyed both.

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    1. Often I get irritated when a film is too different from the source material, but this one did not bother me at all, Margot.

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  3. Fascinating - I love the movie, think it is marvellous, but have never known or thought about a book! and it sounds quite different.

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    1. It is very different, Moira. The basic story is there, but the emphasis is very different. And they both work well. For me at least.

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  4. I've not heard of either book, author or film to be honest. I'd possibly enjoy them but won't seek them out - too much to read and view on the piles already.

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    1. I know what you mean, Col. We have the same situation here.

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  5. So glad you enjoyed this one too - Wade and Miller never wrote a dull book as far as I am aware and are well worth seeing out. Thanks for the kind words abotu FEDORA - I love the movie, especially the reconstructed version, which is in essence a re-edit of the longer preview cut. The main difference will be obvious from the opening tracking shot, that masterpiece of Welles cinema, that in the revised edition isn't spoiled by having titles and music slapped on top of it. Really lookign forward to hearing what you make of it.

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    1. Oh, good, Sergio, I am glad to hear that you have enjoyed some of the Wade and Miller books. I will be looking for more. We will be watching both other versions of Touch of Evil. The history of the film and its various versions is fascinating.

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  6. I like the book cover, Tracy. It draws me in with its simplicity. The use of font really creates that air of suspense I think.

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    1. I like the book cover too, Peggy. Has an old-fashioned feeling.

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  7. Welles loved dark, Tracy, was himself about as dark a figure Hollywood's produced. I didn't see the film nor read the book, but, of course, you're swaying me!

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    1. I am pretty sure you would like the film, Mathew, and probably the book too.

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  8. Tracy, Wade Miller is vaguely familiar to me but, strangely, neither Whit Masterson nor Robert Wade and Bill Miller are.

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    1. I am not overly familiar with the authors either, Prashant, but I think when they wrote together they most often used the name Wade Miller. They also occasionally used the name Whit Masterson, and then later Robert Wade books wrote books by himself as Whit Masterson also. Confusing, but I am definitely going to find more books by these authors.

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  9. This one sounds quite tempting. I don't mind the occasional hard-boiled read as long as there's not too much nihilism and despair.

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    1. No, dfordoom, not too much despair in this book and definitely no nihilism. I would love to hear what you think of it. I could not find about the book, just a lot about the film, which is entirely different.

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    2. I've seen the film and loved it.

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    3. I liked the version we watched, now I want to see the other longer versions.

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