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September 11, 2010

Book Review: Devil Girls by Ed Wood

Devil Girls is another of Wood’s novels that has been reprinted again and again and is quite easily accessible. It is also noteworthy as the first appearance of Sheriff Buck Rhodes, small town peacekeeper and globe-trotting do-gooder (he is also seen in Parisian Passions).

The story involves the running of illegal and illicit drugs (chiefly heroin and LSD, which in Wood-speak turns from Lysergic Acid Diethylamide to Lost Souls Delivered). The drugs are being sent into the small town by Lark, the sadistic pusher, and carried by the drug-addicted girl gang of the title…the Chicks. Amid strife in the Chick’s organization (the leader Lila has escaped prison, through murder, and has come back to claim her territory from Dee) and the bumblings of a do-gooder preacher, Reverend Steele, Sheriff Rhodes, ex-junkie and hamburger joint owner Jockey and his hulking assistant, Chief, Wood manages to get off a well-plotted, if not exactly a well-told, story.

Owing chiefly to the year that it was printed, Devil Girls stands as the testament to Wood’s writing in the Golden Age. Low on smut, but high on intrigue and scandal, the novel moves along at a brisk pace and creates characters that are both believable and interesting (aside from Wood’s usual stereotypical bad girls). The real treasure in the novel is Sheriff Rhodes. The Sheriff has an opinion on everything, including a long rant on the evils of the drug-induced psyche. Sample the wit and wisdom of the ruggedly goodlooking Buck Rhodes, if you will:

“No! I guess not. Even these hop-heads have better sense than to come out in the open. But it’s like I told the new school teacher. Just because the Long girl is dead and will be planted, doesn’t mean they’re through with her.” Buck got up and looked out of the window. “We try, and sometimes we learn something, but we can’t fully learn how the hopped up mind works. With every individual the thoughts differ.” He turned to lean his rump on the window sill. “They have it in for this teacher and anyone or anything connected with her. That’s the way I’ve got it figured. Don’t be surprised to see that grave all torn up some night…maybe worse. It’s been done before.”

That wacky, crazy lawman sure knows how to dissect the criminal mind. Rhodes eventually, with the aid of Steele, Jockey and Chief, manages to thwart the evil schemes of Lark. The tragic end of the Chicks comes from an unlikely place, though. Lila Purdue’s mother, Mrs. Purdue, is the final nail in the coffin of drug crimes in the town. Lila, holding her sister Rhoda at gunpoint in a stand-off against the forces of good, is finally deposed. Read on, gentle creatures:

Mrs. Purdue used every ounce of strength she had left as she pushed Lila’s arm upward and the gun fired harmlessly into the air. She pushed Lila backward and they both lost their footing and fell over the guard rail into the speeding propeller. Jockey raced forward tearing at his shirt. “Somebody cut that motor quick!” He dove over the stern as the police and Reverend Steele raced in to board the ship. The little man’s head came up for the first time just as the screw stopped its speeding revolutions, then he dove under again. After several minutes, and many more dives, Chief reached over and pulled Jockey back aboard the ship. He looked at Reverend Steele who had his arm comfortingly around Rhoda’s shoulders.

“Not a sign, Reverend. They’re gone,” he said slowly.

And so it ends.

Since Devil Girls has been reprinted, its value has dropped accordingly. An original paperback from 1967 will more than likely fetch in the neighborhood of $70 to $80. There are reprints, though, from Gorse in London. These still retail for cover price, with the exception of the Devil Girls/Death of a Transvestite double book. It was a Quality Paperback Book Club alternate and is a little harder to find. It retailed for $14.95 but look in the area of $20 to $30.

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