When Steve Garrity comes home one night to find a paper match bent into the front door frame of his apartment he knows it's not a good sign. Vince Licardi has been there again. And when Vince shows up Steve knows he has to give up his regular gig as a piano player in a local night club and do another favor for the syndicate. The favor always means someone has to die.
This time it's Leda , a fifteen year old girl living in a upstate New York suburb. Just why Leda has to do die is never explained to Steve. All that is stressed is her death must appear to be accidental and needs to happen fast. It's one of Steve's most difficult jobs for the gangsters he has become enslaved to. Years ago he beat a man to death and in order to escape prison and eventual execution in the electric chair he agreed to a Faustian pact of sorts. He would have to kill someone for the mob and continue to accept hit man jobs whenever called upon in exchange for his life and protection.
There is the usual well drawn cast of supporting players. Small town gossips provide Steve with all the info he needs on Leda without having to probe too deeply. Offering up all the dirt on the town and Leda's life are a slovenly misanthropic hotel owner, the ineffectual and nosey bellhop Ollie, and a friendly bartender. A former NYC cop, now chief of police of the small town, serves as the shrewd detective who begins to suspect Steve may not be what he pretends to be.
This is a straight crime novel that travels down the dark noir road. There is no detection or real justice as in the books detailing the cases of cops Pete Selby and Stan Rayder of the 6th Precinct. There is plenty of steamy sex and scheming, though. Steve gets in way over his head when he foolishly decides to use Leda's aunt, Nancy Wilson, as a way to get to know his intended victim. Posing as a man interested in opening a music store in the space that formerly housed Nancy's financially disastrous gift shop, Steve decides to pursue her romantically. The phony relationship gets out of hand, Nancy falls madly for Steve, and Leda then uses the two against each other in order to outwit Steve at his own game. Some readers may find the portrait of Leda, a nasty little Lolita with a case of the Bad Seed syndrome, a bit repellent by the end which is as bleak as most real noir should be.
This is one of Craig's books that received two Gold Medal printings. The one pictured up top (#954) is the second edition with a picture of a mature and teasing teen age Leda as she is described in the book. The first printing (#669) at right makes Leda look like a magazine model in her 30s. Neither of the cover artists chose to dress Leda in her drum majorette outfit that she sports in an incriminating photo, an integral part of the plot. How much of a fetishist's dream is a teenager in a drum majorette outfit? How could Gold Medal have missed that opportunity? Maybe someday there will be a reissue with Leda shown the way Craig intended her to be depicted.