An Excerpt from
WILLIAM ARD: TENDER WRITER
IN A TOUGH WORLD
by Francis M. Nevins
Two years after abandoning Timothy Dane, Ard launched a new character who, if he was intended to be the protagonist of a series, was aborted by his creator’s early death. Mike Fontaine is 30 years old, big and dark and handsome, half French, half Irish, and such a compulsive romantic that he must help every troubled woman who crosses his path. He aspires to Broadway stardom, and once appeared in the male chorus of South Pacific, but his penchant for rescuing ladies has caused most of his adult life to be spent behind bars. At the start of Ard’s final hardcover novel, AS BAD AS I AM (Rinehart, 1959), Fontaine is released on parole after serving five years for a fistfight in which he killed a man who was beating a woman, but the wacko terms of that parole require him to avoid all social contact with women for the next eighteen months. Fontaine however is one of those sexually magnetic men at first sight of whom women tear off their clothes and offer themselves, and to make matters worse his parole officer is a sadistic creep who aches to catch the young man off base and send him back to the slammer. Mike returns to the family home on East 97th Street which his younger sister shares with her husband, plainclothes cop Harry Taggart, but finds that during his imprisonment the block has been absorbed into the slums of Spanish Harlem and that the upper floors of the house are being rented to Puerto Ricans. While hunting for an acting gig, he happens to meet and instantly propels into an erotic tizzy the gorgeous redheaded TV starlet Gloria Allen. Then, about a hundred pages into the book, he discovers that his brother-in-law is on the take, collecting a commission on each patron of the Puerto Rican prostitutes to whom he’s rented rooms in the 97th street house. Taggart breaks in on Fontaine’s enraged attempt to throw the whores out and tries to kill Mike on the spot but is himself shot to death in the struggle. The hookers and their current customer flee and, just as in Ard’s HELL IS A CITY (1955), the dead cop’s superiors form a politically motivated conspiracy to whitewash the officer, brand the innocent young man who shot him as a mad-dog copkiller, and put out orders that he be shot on sight. This version lacks the power and nightmarish intensity of the 1955 Timothy Dane novel but is rather better constructed, with the burden of saving the young victim of municipal corruption placed on the shoulders of the starlet Gloria, a high-powered talent agent, a tax lawyer with romantic yearnings of his own, and a shrewd Broadway private eye named Barney Glines. This is clearly not the Barney Glines who was protagonist of Ard’s 1952 paperback YOU’LL GET YOURS (1952, as by Thomas Wills), nor is he the Glines who used to be Timothy Dane’s partner and was killed in CRY SCANDAL (1956). Ard seems to have been almost pathologically careless about recycling that name. The climax is set at a criminal trial turned media event just as in HELL IS A CITY but this time—except for Ard’s illusion that the Supreme Court is New York State’s highest court rather than, as in fact it is, its lowest—the judicial proceedings are more believable. Anthony Boucher, who always had a kind word even for Ard’s lesser efforts, summed up this one best when in a review for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine he called it a “happy, exciting romance-melodrama of rogue cops, the theatre, and young love—Ard’s longest and probably his most entertaining.”
In his second and final adventure, which occurs three weeks later, Fontaine’s last name has magically changed from Mike to Danny. Did a real-world Michael Fontaine threaten to sue if his name was used again? Did Ard simply forget? Is this book not by Ard? History’s lips are sewn shut. Fontaine has just married Gloria Allen and is about to begin a new career as partner in Barney Glines’ detective agency: a premise borrowed from CRY SCANDAL, which ended with Timothy Dane offering a job in his agency to the likable ex-convict Johnny Packerd who had saved Dane’s life at the Tuckahoe quarry, although Packi was never mentioned in the single subsequent Dane novel. WHEN SHE WAS BAD (Dell pb #B145, 1960) opens with a titled, recently widowed and astonishingly sexy young Englishwoman coming to Manhattan and hiring the Glines agency to find her stepdaughter, who’s threatening to sell some of the lady’s passionate love letters to a London scandal sheet. Glines assigns the case to Danny, whose bride has just flown to Hollywood to appear in a Frank Sinatra-Dean Martin-Tony Curtis sex comedy. The real sex comedy unfolds in Manhattan and Bermuda as the stepdaughter’s trail brings the hapless Fontaine into the eager clutches of uncountable nubile lovelies lusting for his manly body. Sex titillation consumes most of the pages of this adventure, and what crime plot there is turns out to be as skimpy and flimsy as the bikini panties discarded by every female in the case at first sight of Fontaine. Was the book ghosted from an Ard outline or rough draft (or maybe ex nihilo) by a lesser talent who remains nameless? As I said before, history’s lips remain sewn shut.
(For the complete introduction, see the book)