Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bad Titles, Great Books

"Peter Rabe wrote the best books with the worst titles of anybody I can think of," says Donald Westlake -- whose own books (and titles) are world-class -- in his afterword to this new edition from Stark House of two of Rabe's most powerful paperback originals. "Murder Me for Nickels, Kill the Boss Goodbye? And yet," Westlake continues, "Kill the Boss Goodbye is one of the most purely interesting crime novels ever written."

Perhaps the title problem came from the fact that Rabe was born in Germany in 1921 and immigrated to America in 1938 -- so English was not his original language. But the books themselves are fascinating and unique, as these two newly-rescued examples -- My Lovely Executioner / Agreement to Kill -- prove.

Both books are about men in or recently released from prison. Jimmy Gallivan of My Lovely Executioner is about to get out, but a fellow inmate screws up Jimmy's plans with a treacherous scheme. In Agreement to Kill, Jake Spinner is just out of jail and headed back to work on his farm, until deadly events turn things around. Both are absolutely riveting.