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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

High Stakes

cover image By: Dent, Lester (male)
Publisher: Ace Books, Inc. (D 21)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 836: PS3507 .E577 D4 1953
Contributor: D. DiLandro


Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: Lester Dent Geographic Locale: on board AEA Flight 14 from New York City to Albuquerque, New Mexico Date of Publication: 1953  |  Original Date: 1946 Setting: other; airline flight; the longer introductory scene occurs at the flight terminal in New York; the plane lands in both Pittsburgh and Kansas City where the denouement occurs and the action ends Motives: greed, revenge, murder, drugging Alternate Title: Dead at the Take-Off

Plot Summary

Chance Molloy is trailing Janet Lord, daughter of the senator who is bent on destroying Molloy's fledgling airline business. They are all passengers on a plane bound for New Mexico and Molloy hopes to surrepticiously get Janet to invite him to an audience with the senator at their family ranch, presumably to get him to reverse the decision that is ruining Molloy. Meanwhile, gangster types in the senator's employ have murdered his grandson (Janet Lord's nephew) since he was in collusion with Molloy. They, too, are tracking Lord on the plane. Molloy and the gangsters clash, the senator arrives in Kansas City to confront Molloy, fearing for Lord's safety, the gangsters (and others) are killed. The senator sees the light of his decisions and the characters go their separate ways.

Major Characters

Chance Molloy uses the alias Walter Rand on the plane, adult male, 39 years old, "bony but presentable face and large hands, a rangy man with a businesslike and nearly hard neatness about him," brown eyes, blonde hair, "deeply tanned" skin; owns and operates fledgling airline/terminal business in South America and the southern United States

George adult male, "a stocky man with wide hips and sloping shoulders," apparently strong and menacing as well; works for Molloy as lackey/informant

Kiggins adult female, "icy" and severe in dress and manner; works for Molloy in a capacity similar to George's

Wendell Lord adult male, an "old man" (perhaps 70s), thick black hair still, "large, clear, lustrous and intense blue-black eyes," physically frail, U.S. senator

Attilio Battaglia a.k.a. "Batsie," adult male, 30s, short, wiry, dark complexion, bully mentality; petty thug in the employ of Senator Lord

Janet Lord adult female, 25 years old, daughter of Senator Lord, "her face was rather monotonously oval, the way pretty girls' faces are oval, but the mouth was nice, the nose had character, and there was an alertness about the eyes," no apparent job - all she wants to do is meet her nephew in New York City and travel back to the family home in New Mexico

Taylor Lynn adult male, Janet Lord's nephew, Senator Lord's grandson, seemingly a dissolute rich kid

Dolan adult male, "wiry blue-eyed man in a slightly damp brown tweed suit with rain spots on his lemon-yellow shoes," petty thug who pretends to be a doctor

Ned adult male, middle-aged, slight build, extremely nervous, petty thug working with Batsie, he pretends to be a nurse on the plane, assisting "Doctor Dolan"

Mary Rounds adult female, 25 years old, small, attractive, used to date Molloy, stewardess/practical nurse

Jackson W. Hines "Jack," adult male, small, dark, ex-husband of Mary Rounds, spends most of his time plotting how to wring money out of the other passengers and Mary

Costello adult male, 40 years old, strong, exhibits grace under pressure, pursuing Mary Rounds, airline pilot

Carl Martin adult male, 20s, tall, aesthetic, serious, neurotic, repressed, airline officer


guns, intimidation, implied physical threats

Level of Violence

the violence is given in third-person, impersonal form. There is also some self-violence/mental torture. To varying degrees, a number of the characters torture themselves -- Mary is tormented by the choice between men, and Molloy is hell-bent on revenge


not a lot of sex goes on here. No one has it, and no one seems to think about it. There are a very few references to a particular character noticing a woman's beauty, and Mary notices Molloy's masculinity, but nothing much. It is somewhat interesting that men (usually the "thug-y" types) who "notice" the women consider their physical attributes, while Mary (representing the women) is in love with Molloy's -- and later Costello's -- stability, as a mark of manliness. Janet Lord and Kiggins are unaware of (in the former's case) or anti-sex (Kiggins) or displays therein.

Gender Roles

typical and unbiased; female characters are neither denigrated nor vaunted. Kiggins, a woman, is rather equally matched to George, a man (and, in fact, "dominates" him as he proposed to her formally, only to be icily rebuked), and Mary has a counterpart in a male attendant. There is perhaps, a bit of the sense of, men want, women may or may not provide...., but this is not exceptionally highlighted. Molloy does show some interest in Janet Lord, but, ultimately, she leaves the experience and him.


very little racism or even diversity; "colored" is used twice; "Negro" once, though both for contemporarily acceptable descriptions. Batsie is, given his name and physical description, perhaps Italian, but many other villains are Great White Hopes, so not much there. There is one minor hint of bigotry -- after George has swiped Lord's purse, Molloy tells her he saw who took it, and he gives her this description: "He was a tall, slender man. Blue suit, tan shoes, grey hat, grey hair, dark eyebrows, an Italian." This could indicate that contemporary audiences might expect a criminal to be "that type," although, on the other hand, Molloy might be playing on what he assumes are Lord's prejudices, as, really, the thief is totally made up.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

Hines imbibes frequently from a hidden bottle of whiskey, but this is about the extent of the alcohol use. Elsewhere, Dolan doses Janet Lord with barbital, but this is in his guise as a doctor, and the act is, more or less, "medicinal."

Subject Headings

Greed/ Revenge/ Murder

Psychological Elements

there is some understated psychological "weirdness", although it does not provide a significant motive for the plot. Most of the "quirks" presented are for character development and describe individuals' actions. Batsie, for example, is labeled by George to have a Napoleon Complex (though George doesn't call it this.) The same might be true of Jack Hines, who, though attractive, is described as physically "small." Both these characters are petty thief-types and presented as rats. Both Ned and Molloy are presented with at least a bit of obsessive-compulsive disorder. In Ned, we see a compulsive washing of hands, associated with rather general (and neurotic) worrying over what he's done, what's going to happen, etc. Molloy also washes his hands a lot, taking particular care with them, etc., but OCD-type illness might better be seen in his obsessive attention to detail, the planning of a thing -- the machinations of an action are paramount to him, and he thinks how he had to force himself to employ underlings, how he had to consciously abandon some actions because time would not allow him to do so much himself. Molloy's claustrophobia is noted, but not too much is made of this on its own. Elsewhere, there is a lot of worrying (see Mary's constant musings about Carl and Costello, Costello's fears about getting older, etc.), but interestingly, no one seems to worry too much about what is going on in the plane. That action is presented in a linear, objective fashion. Later, Carl (who is shown to worry a lot internally, despite his calm exterior) goes completely insane and is unable to handle what's occurred on the plane.