book: Black Widow (2008) by E.Duke Vincent


I’ve gotta be honest. In the midst of reading this book I underwent a relatively minor surgical operation (a follow-up from the more major one I had a few weeks ago), and so I wasn’t in the best of humors at the time. Y’know: effing hospitals. That said, if ever you have to go under the knife and get given a choice about where the general carnage is to be administered, opt for the Morristown Medical Center.

It’s the mid-1950s and US Navy flyboy Vinny Vesta, ex-Hell’s Kitchen thug and Mafia protege, is given the task of escorting a fellow-flyboy’s remains from Jacksonville, Florida, to California. There he meets the dead man’s widow, rising Hollywood starlet Kat, and it’s lust at first sight; immediately before jumping his bones, Kay explains that her marriage to Vinny’s deceased pal had long been dead in the water. A few days and about forty couplings later, they decide to get married. Trouble is, Kat’s control-freak daddy, high-powered LA lawyer Marion Pennington, is implacably opposed to the liaison. Other trouble is, ol’ man Pennington is shoulder-deep in cahoots with the Mob. So Vinny is likely to get knocked off at any moment.

Was that what happened to Kat’s first husband, Vinny’s flyboy squadron-mate? It’s a legitimate question, I feel. Unfortunately, it’s one that the novel declines to answer.

My main problem with Dark Widow (which is, to its credit, fairly fluently written) was that most of the principal characters made me want to upchuck. In the normal way I have no objections to novels focused on unsympathetic characters, but here I spent most of my time wanting to fling the book at the wall. Vinny and his flyboy pals belong to that school of fictional characters who seem to have unlimited financial resources (every now and then Vinny mentions that he’s not as rich as Kat, but he merrily spends on fripperies the kinds of sums most of us would be glad to earn) and absolutely fantabulous sex lives: until Kat comes along, Vinny and his flyboy pals have been bedding, often enough in multiples, hordes of gorgeous females who daily throw themselves at the aw-shucks sexual-powerhouse guys.

Vinny thinks nothing, at one point, of using up galootles of taxpayer dollars so he can fly by Navy jet across the country to attend to a personal matter. I suppose anyone expressing outrage at this would be instantly labeled “socialist” by the people who move in Vinny’s circles.

And let’s not forget Vinny’s mafia connections. Because of them, most of the people he regards as “family” (I tried to avoid the pun but couldn’t) are multiple murderers, pimps, human traffickers (before the term was invented) and all the rest. Vinny doesn’t seem to see much wrong in any of that. They’re still, y’know, good people.

Virtually unlimited money? Virtually unlimited sex? Pardon my French, but Black Widow‘s what we call in critical circles a bit of a wankathon. It’s not just the characters who’re objectionable but the whole flipping ethos of the book. I’m sure there are fourteen-year-old boys who’ll regard it as a masterpiece. I’m, alas, despite my inner fourteen-year-old, not one of them.

The rather striking cover image is, unfortunately, uncredited.

9 thoughts on “book: Black Widow (2008) by E.Duke Vincent

  1. Hope you’re recovering OK. Always take your comfort reads to hospital – the books that you don’t care whether they’re good or not – the books you know so well you don’t need to reread them.
    There’s a difference between “unsympathetic characters” and dislikable characters. Portray them properly and a writer can persuade you that “multiple murderers, pimps, human traffickers” etc really are “still, y’know, good people” with a few faults, but it sounds like both Vinnie and – the real problem – the author just accept their standards without thinking.
    Hope all’s going well and you keep away from the leeches for a bit.

    • Thanks for the advice re comfort reads! I took this one to the hospital because it required no intellectual effort to read it (which is not in itself a criticism). I hadn’t realized, though, how much it would come to annoy me.

      Vinny himself makes me want to upchuck, as noted. Part of the reason is, as you say, his acceptance of the deplorables as “good people.” Most of it, though, at least for me, is his egregious narcissism, which seems to be shared by his flyboy friends.

    • So…kind of a Harold Robbins acolyte?

      Yes, and I wish I’d thought of that comparison. Thanks for it.

      And thanks for the kind thoughts. One very pleasing aspect of the day for Pam and myself was the discovery that one of the nursing assistants, who looked to be about 19 if she’d just had a birthday, confessed she was an incorrigible reader, never went anywhere without a book, shunned TV in the family home, all of that good stuff. There’s hope yet.

  2. Hope you are doing well. Is this the same E. Duke Vincent who worked for decades in television, often with Aaron Spelling (DYNASTY, 90210, etc)? I think he is married to Pamela Hensley (who co-starred in his show, MATT HOUSTON). Always time for more trivia …

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