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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

Stranglehold

cover image By: Creighton, John (pseudonym of Joseph L. Chadwick) (male)
Publisher: Ace Books, Inc. (D-333)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 836: PS3505 .H215 S76 1959
Contributor: P. Ryan

General

Era: 1950s Author as on Cover: John Creighton Geographic Locale: Bayview and Glen Cove -- fictional sea coast towns; (perhaps northeastern U.S.) Date of Publication: 1959  |  Original Date: 1959 Setting: small towns; including the district attorney's office, a warehouse, Burke's boat The Lucky Lady, and a baronial estate Motives: greed and financial gain derived from a civic construction kickback for contracts racket. In order to protect the lucrative racket, the D.A.'s daughter is framed for prostitution and Burke is framed for murder.

Plot Summary

Receiving a telephone summons to the District Attorney's office, Special Investigator Dave Burke learns that D.A. John Forbes is being blackmailed. Compromising photos of his 19-year old daughter Diane have been obtained by people who want to halt an inquiry into a corrupt construction contract kickback racket. Worse, Diane was framed on a prostitution charge. Gorman not only warns Burke off the case, he fires him. Driven by his hatred of his ex-brother-in-law Matt Devlin, a principal in the construction racket, Burke pursues the investigation anyway. Convinced that Devlin or his associate Tony Veretti concocted the blackmail scheme, he tracks down Devlin and confronts him. Devlin denies any involvement and warns Burke to be careful. Feeling isolated and vulnerable, Burke approaches financier J.D. Doran. He explains the racket to Doran and tells him that he has incriminating tapes of Devlin and several others. Doran agrees to help Burke get a hearing when he can produce the tapes. Later Burke is approached by Ginny Carter, his ex-fiance who is now a prostitute. She tries to seduce Burke into quitting, and when he refuses, she promises to tell Burke the name of the mobster who is crowding Veretti out -- later. Burke tells her to wait on his boat until he returns from town. While in town, he is briefly held captive by Veretti's men, escapes, and upon his return, finds Ginny strangled. Fortuitously, a girl named Julie Kulaski shows up, believes in Burke's innocence, and helps him dump the body before he can be framed by the local police. They leave in Burke's boat, and sail down the coast to Glen Cove where he meets with Fred Naylor who gives him the tapes. Upon returning to his boat, Burke prevents sadistic deputy Mel Harper from raping Julie by pistol-whipping him. Burke presents the tapes to J.D. Doran for evidence at a hearing. Someone strangles Veretti before his arraignment; in the denouement, Burke realizes that the murderer is assistant D.A. Frank Gorman. Gorman has kidnapped Julie as "insurance" but Burke tortures him until he reveals Julie's location. She is safely rescued, and tricks Burke into a marriage proposal.


Major Characters

David Burke "Dave," adult male, Irish-American, 31 years old, 6 feet tall, rangy build, fairly good-looking; special investigator for the district attorney's office (salary $5,200 per year)

Frank Gorman adult male, American of Irish and Italian ancestry, 34 years old, medium height, large build, physically a "Latin" type, handsome, always impeccably groomed

Virginia Carter "Ginny," adult female, nymphomaniac, 31 years old, a brunette of "virginal beauty.....it was as though the life she led was good for her." (p.41); ex-fiance of Dave Burke; now a prostitute

Matt Devlin adult male, 40 years old, big, coarsely handsome, ex-brother-in-law and ex-business partner of Dave, now involved in a kickback scheme for a civic construction contract racket

Tony Veretti adult male, "squat, half bald man of about sixty....neither peasant nor legitimate businessman. He was a jungle creature" (p.52); the local syndicate boss and a business associate of Matt Devlin

Julie Kulaski adult female, 22 years old, blonde, beautiful; falls for Burke so hard that on their second short encounter, she helps him dispose of a corpse

J.D. Doran adult male, late middle-age, steel-gray hair, china blue eyes, a beak of a nose, humorless mouth, an imposing six foot plus; financier

Major Ed Grierson adult male, "tall and rangy, bronzed of skin and gray of hair," a pipe-smoker; state police officer


Weapons

weapons include a chair thrown at Veretti's bodyguard; an automatic pistol taken from Veretti's men, a short length of rope used to strangle Ginny Carter; insulated copper wire used for the same purpose on Veretti; and a television cord that Burke uses to torture/choke Gorman into revealing Julie Kulaski's whereabouts.


Level of Violence

violent action is rendered in a matter-of-fact manner as part of the over-all action. Burke's feelings toward Matt Devlin are the most violent emotions on display. The only time he approaches that level of hatred is when Burke pistol-whips County Deputy Mel Harper when he tries to rape Julie. Burke knows that this is the same man who raped and arrested Diane Forbes.


Sexuality

to Matt Devlin, sexuality is "the easy buck, the easy dame." Despite his hedonistic philosophy, Devlin is aware of his compulsions and he is genuinely sorry that they have cost him his family. Burke apparently sublimates most of his sexual and other energies in the task at hand -- bringing down Devlin. Burke's own obsessive compulsions become clear; destroying Devlin will hurt his sister and other family members. Sex to Ginny Carter is merely a pleasant way to make a living. Although sex is descussed matter-of-factly, it is not explicit.


Gender Roles

traditional; women are either largely passive and compliant like Ginny Carter, or at best they can be helpmates, handy for disposing a body (p.63) or whipping up breakfast (p.81) like Julie Kulaski. Burke, while not an overly macho character, certainly holds to the standard of single-minded dedication of purpose.


Ethnicity

no specific race or ethnic group is valorized but the Italians, as represented by Tony Veretti, Pete Salvatore, and the half-Italian Frank Gorman are certainly the novel's most vicious criminals. This novel was published nearly two years after the police raided the Appalachian convention of 58 Mafia bosses on November 14, 1957. Before that, J. Edgar Hoover had denied the existence of a powerful Italian crime syndicate for the previous thirty years.


Alcohol/Drug Abuse

Burke will take a drink or a cigarette to relieve stress, but he is on a mission; he cannot linger long. He feeds on his anger toward Devlin and Veretti.


Law Enforcement

Burke has some regard for the Bayview police, but little or no regard for the county sheriff's system of appointing deputies (a feudal system that rewards political ward-heelers); and a high regard bordering on hero worship for the state police. The county cops are viewed as corrupt and the D.A.'s office is corrupt -- it has been penetrated by the Syndicate.


Added Features

this post-McCarthy era novel shows how easy it is to frame an innocent man (just like the novel on this Ace Double's flip side -- Scream Street, which also involves a rape/blackmail ring). As in other McCarthy era fiction and film, an "end justifies the means" speech is inserted; in this case, that speech is given by the chief villain, Frank Gorman, in reference to the HUAC hearings conducted earlier in the decade: "This country of ours is populated by chumps....smart boys like Tony Veretti and Vic Guerrera have the world by the tail. If you need proof, consider that spectacle in Washington, the smart boys protected by the Fifth Amendment." (p.125) Shades of the McCarthy era though, Gorman is a Syndicate mole groomed for the D.A.'s office from boyhood like a deep-cover Communist agent. He makes the fatal mistake of underestimating a man recently returned from a "dirty war."


Subject Headings

Public Prosecutors/ Blackmail/ Prostitution/ Murder/ Mafia/ Corruption (In Politics)/ Prostitutes


Psychological Elements

the tone of the novel is filtered through Dave Burke's sublimated, repressed Victorian morality. His hatred of Devlin is so strong that it could almost be the flip side of repressed homosexual attraction. Veretti and Gorman are not so much psychotic as they are greedy, compulsive sociopaths. They murder for advancement or profit. The only moralizing or sociopolitical commentary in this novel seems to be some heavy implications that spoiled, unsupervised brats will grow up to become criminals (a popular theme in many 1950s genres). This is primarily a thriller/melodrama with some psychological elements.