Book Review: Solomon’s Vineyard by Jonathan Latimer

Solomon’s Vineyard is a dark pulp noir, written by Jonathan Latimer in 1941. It was instantly banned as soon as it was released and not available in America for years. You can see why this book was banned, it is ripe with casual sex, drug use, alcoholism, a religious cult, over the top violence and racism, though that last one was probably not as big a deal in 1941 as it is when you read it today. Though this book was hard to come by in the past, today E-copies are available at a very reasonable price.

This is my first Latimer book and was not familiar with his work, even though I have enjoyed it in the past, even reviewing some of his past work right here, without realizing it! He worked in Hollywood for many years with much success. He wrote the screenplay for two amazing films noir I reviewed:

The Glass Key

The Big Clock

Though Latimer is mostly forgotten today, back in his pulp days he was writing best sellers and in the copy of this book I read there is an interesting interview with him where he talks about his contemporaries Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain.

Solomon’s Vineyard is told in the first person by Karl Craven. Craven is a private investigator, who has come to a small town to investigate his partner’s recent murder as well as finish the case his partner was working on. His partner was shot with no clues or leads to go on, except it probably had to do with the case he was working. Craven and his partner were paid good money from a father wanting to get his daughter back. His daughter is in a religious cult, whose leader has passed 5 years ago and is supposed to rise from the dead this year. Along the way Craven meets two beautiful women, one is the Princess from the cult and the other is the girlfriend of the local gangster.

When this book was written in 1941 it must have seemed pretty far-fetched. Since then we have had many cults, which seem to have a similar story to this book. The Mason Family came to mind and the author even brings this up in the interview in my copy of the book. I got to say, the new television show Aquarius has more than a passing resemblance to this book. I also got a bit of a Wicker Man vibe from this book. I’m sure both of these is more of a coincidence then anything, but it would be interesting to know if this book did influence these.

I would recommend this book to anybody that loves the early period of noir and hardboiled fiction. If you are a fan of those pulp fiction authors of the 1930’s and 1940’s you will love this book.