Sunday, September 6, 2009

Branded Woman by Wade Miller (Hard Case Crime)

Since September 2009 marks the fifth anniversary of Hard Case Crime, I will be reprinting my reviews of the first 40 books from my old (and now mostly defunct) Craig's Book Club site — 2 for the first 10 days, and 1 a day for the next 20. I hope you enjoy this refresher course in the variety of crime fiction that this fascinating publisher has to offer.

"Five years had smoothed the scar's puckered edges, but the deep brand of the T was still gullied in her skin like a pale headless crucifix." — from Branded Woman

Author Wade Miller is likely best known (if he is known at all) as the writer of the novel that Orson Welles used as the source of his late-career masterpiece, Touch of Evil. However, this is only likely once you know that "Wade Miller" was a pseudonym used by Robert Wade and William Miller, who also used other pen names throughout their writing career.

One of those was "Whit Masterson," who is the "person" credited with that source novel, originally called Badge of Evil. Of course, Welles took considerable license with the characters, switching the identities of a few, as well as locations, and beefing up the role of Hank Quinlan (which he played himself).

Confused yet? I was. (Other similar sounding pseudonyms the pair used were "Will Daemer" and "Dale Wilmer" — it seems the duo had a wry sense of humor.) What is important now, though, is that the two wrote Branded Woman, a new release from Hard Case Crime.

Cay Morgan was a jewel smuggler, the rare woman in what is considered a man's profession. She was entirely content to smuggle and let smuggle, but The Trader had other ideas; Cay needed to be taught a lesson and, although she had thought there was nothing worse than death, she soon found out otherwise. Half a decade later, she is in Mazatlán, on the trail of a man named Valdes, her only link to The Trader and her only opportunity for revenge.

Branded Woman features one of the more fascinating characters in crime literature in Cay Morgan. She is smart and sexy, seductive and skilled. If she lets her emotions rule her sometimes to her detriment ... well, that just shows that she has remained human, unlike the usual femmes fatales who only seem out for a buck — or a stabbed or broken heart. Despite all she has been through, she is still open to experiencing hope, and she can still love. That she doesn't have much luck in that arena is simply par for the course. (They wouldn't call the publisher Hard Case Crime if they were interested in printing books about people finding happiness.)

Branded Woman contains a complex chain of events leading up to an astonishing conclusion. Wade and Miller are expert plotters and their situations feel realistic while being entirely out of the ordinary. Having Cay seem like a real woman only ups the ante and makes this novel more impressive.

What I like best about the Hard Case Crime books is how they make me want to seek out authors I've never heard of before (Two for the Money made me an instant Max Allan Collins fan). So, now that I know there are more names to look for, Wade Miller (or Whit Masterson, or whatever the duo call themselves on any given book) is/are getting added to that list.

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