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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

Sweet and Deadly

cover image By: Chute, Verne (male)
Publisher: Popular Library (443)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 492: PS 3553 .H873 S93 1952
Contributor: N. Kuhl


Era: 1950s Author as on Cover: Verne Chute Geographic Locale: Los Angeles, California Date of Publication: 1952  |  Original Date: 1952 Setting: urban; various hotels and clubs around the city; The Maplewood Bar, new house in a development at the city's edge Motives: blackmail, murder

Plot Summary

Mel Thane, a man with a somewhat shadowy past, takes a job as a driver for a gem dealer named Albert Wilson. When, on his first day on the job, Mel's boss gets shot and killed, Mel discovers that the gem dealer was also a blackmailer. Mel accidentally inherits his boss's secret stash of cash and his "file" of blackmail material, including letters, photos, and other incriminating items. Thane uses the cash to set himself up with a place to stay while he investigates Wilson's blackmail business. Thane soon learns that Wilson was part of a blackmail ring that includes, among others, a prominent lawyer and the powerful owner of a local nightclub. In an effort to find out more about the blackmail file, Thane tracks down Angel Allen, a beautiful young woman who is a victim of Wilson's business. Thane, an admitted woman-hater, immediately and reluctantly begins to fall in love with her. Unfortunately, Angel isn't entirely trustworthy, and Thane can't determine whether or not she is working with the blackmailers.

Major Characters

Mel Thane adult white male who has "Indian blood," darkly handsome; though he's not strictly a detective, Thane is one of the story's chief investigators; a heavy drinker, a misogynist and a homophobe

Captain Darleen straight white male, an honest cop who was being blackmailed until Thane found Wilson's file; Darleen works with Thane, helping him to uncover the blackmail ring

James Madison adult male, private investigator hired by Thane to find information about Angel Allen after he learns that Angel hired Madison to investigate him; Thane later asks Madison to investigate several of the blackmailers; Madison's office is right beside L.A.'s little known cable cars and the noise of their passing always fills his office

Jake Small straight white adult male, worked for Madison until the blackmailers who caught him snooping around killed him

Bruno Rife adult male, member of the blackmailing ring and owner of the classy "Cockatoo Bar" which has a mini-casino hidden upstairs. Rife is 50-ish and chunky with gray eyes; he wears a diamond ring and speaks the way a "well-educated foreigner" might.

Cintra adult male, large, blonde and friendly, aka John Archibald Janis; associated with the law firm of Littlefield and Littlefield, Cintra/Janis is a local philanthropist and member of the blackmailing gang

Della Marble adult female, lesbian member of the blackmailing gang; very severe with cold green eyes; wears mannish suits and neckties, and looks "like a policewoman"; often dresses as a man and walks with a limp to disguise herself

Flick adult male, thin, about 40 years old, shifty eyes and a pasty, pimply face; Flick is the blackmailers' photographer

Benjamin Littlefield adult male, small, fat and "bulgy," he is the lawyer behind the firm Littlefield and Littlefield, which has been a sort of headquarters for the blackmailers

Angel K. Allen adult female, aka Dorothy Anders, beautiful and clever young woman who works for Littlefield and is a victim of the blackmailers, who have nude photos of her. She insists the photos have been doctored

Gloria Tanner adult female, she is dead when the book begins; a blackmail victim and movie star who died in an apparent suicide

A. James Lindler adult male, nervous, looks older than his 40 years; his wife and child died at the hands of the blackmailers

Alaska Reilly adult male near 60, blonde hair and blue eyes; Alaska is Mel's friend who plays piano at the Maplewood Bar

Dianne X. Gordon adult female, beautiful "girlfriend" of Bruno Rife; Dianne tells Mel Thane that "the X is for expensive"

Level of Violence

no one kind of violence predominates -- there are gunfights, stabbings, beatings, even poisoning. Both blackmailers and detectives all carry guns.


this novel is rich with sexuality, as much of the blackmail material is associated with various sexual transgressions. Homosexuals and homosexuality are also represented very negatively. When a clerk in a men's clothing shop offers Mel "men's perfume," Mel becomes enraged, calls the man a "fairy," and almost hits him. On another occasion, Angel assumes Mel is gay after he tells her he isn't interested in getting involved with women, and Mel goes to great lengths to clarify that he isn't "that kind." Representations of lesbianism, through the character of Della, are also noteworthy. Della is described as a "sadistic lesbian," and in the book's climactic scene, the blackmailers threaten to "turn [Angel] over to Della," a threat Mel finds so "cold-blooded" that it makes him gasp. Treatment of Della's cross-dressing is also interesting.

Gender Roles

almost universally, the women in the book are negatively represented. Thane, though very interested in women's bodies, talks often of the fact that he "hates dames" and isn't interested in dealing with women. To Thane, women aren't to be trusted, and they generally create nothing but problems (his friend Alaska, for instance, would be a successful composer, "but for women").


Mel Thane has "Indian blood," and he carries a stone given to his grandmother by a tribal medicine man. Thane thinks the stone, which he calls Little Ernie, has the power to protect him, and when he loses the stone just before his final encounter with the blackmailers, he worries that he won't survive. The book plays on many racial stereotypes of Native Americans -- Mel is often compared to a "wild Indian" and his smile is called "savage." At first Angel is afraid of him because he is dark-skinned. Representations of African-Americans are also noteworthy. Mel goes to a private show at one of Bruno's clubs where four African-American women and one white woman dance nude in a mock slave auction. A black male dancer with a whip is also part of the show which Mel describes as "a slave market in old New Orleans, its merchandise unwrapped, uncovered for the buyer's inspection."

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

most characters drink socially, although Mel and Alaska drink in nearly every scene. They often drink martinis, zombies, or habanero, a "Mexican liquor".

Law Enforcement

Captain Darleen is the only law enforcement officer to speak of, and he is a good cop who hopes, by the book's end, to bring Mel Thane onto the force.

Subject Headings

Blackmail/ California - Los Angeles/ Murder/ Law and Lawyers/ Police/ Indians of North America/ Homosexuality/ Lesbianism