“Familiar enough in its sex and violence and in its expose of criminous goings on in the pop-record business; but it’s fast, lively and professional, and Irish-Hawaiian Johnny Aloha is better company than many of ficiton’s private eyes.”
— Anthony Boucher, New York Times, on Payola
You were expecting maybe Alaska?
Nope. Johnny’s an ex-Marine (he fought in Korea), half-Irish and half-Hawaiian, cynical and tough and, of course, irresistible to women. “Or maybe,” as Bill Crider once mused, “it’s just that all the women in the 1950s were, to use the parlance of the times, nymphos.”
Anyway, when we first meet him, in Dead in Bed (1959), the Korean War is over, and Johnny has set himself up as a footloose, fancy-free and suitably hard-boiled private detective in Los Angeles.
The stories are a little more lighthearted than Keene’s typical pulp work, rather similar to those of Carter Brown, in their easy blend of sex and violence; with a kind of light, tongue-in-cheek vibe that at times recalls Richard S. Prather’s Shell Scott capers, which were immensely popular at the time. My guess is that Keene had decided to try his hand at something similar by setting up a series character. Unfortunately there was only one sequel, Payola (1960).
Perhaps not surprisingly, the American TV series Hawaiian Eye made its debut the same year Johnny first showed up. Just coincidence, I’m sure. And the fact Keene ended up writing a few episodes of it? Hey, these things happen…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Day Keene was born Gunnar Hjerstedt in Chicago in 1904, and died in North Hollywood in 1969. Along the way he wrote for the theater, radio, the pulps and finally paperbacks. Well-received in France, many of his mystery and crime novels were first published there.
- Dead in Bed (1959; French title “Vice sans fin“) | Buy this book
- Payola (1960; French title “Change pas de disque“) | Buy this book
THE DICK OF THE DAY
- August 7, 2021
THE BOTTOM LINE: Really, he’s only half-Hawaiian, and he’s LA-based, but DAY KEENE, ladies & gentlemen, DAY KEENE!!! 50s pulp at its best, a little bit cheesy & a little bit rock’n’roll. Shame there were only 2 books.
Respectfully submitted by Marcel Bernadac, with additional information by Kevin Burton Smith.