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September 12, 2012

Book Review: Killer in Drag by Ed Wood

Killer in Drag (first printed as Black Lace Drag) and Death of a Transvestite (also printed as Let Me Die in Drag) are the seminal Wood novels. Written as a complete story, Killer in Drag is the first appearance of Glen, a transvestite hit man in his alter ego of Glenda (Death of a Transvestite is covered in a later review). Written in 1963, the tolls of porn and alcoholism were less evident and resulted in Killer being a highly successful and entertaining work (of course, Wood sold it outright and saw nothing in the way of a financial return). It is the most reprinted of Wood’s novels and deservedly so.

Glen is a transvestite and, as Glenda, kills people for the sake of the Syndicate. Glen is very good at what he does. Glen takes an order to make a hit and Glenda shows up. After the job, Glenda meets with one Mr. Dalten Van Carter. He is her way out of the Syndicate… no more killing. That is, until Van Carter is assassinated. This sends Glen/Glenda on the run.

The Syndicate doesn’t take too kindly to employees resigning. Glen, not Glenda, is fingered for the murder of Van Carter and he goes on the lam. In a classic Wood convention, Glen hides out in a shady carnival (aren’t they all?). Glen prepares for the day ahead, where he will buy the carnival, “He studied his face in the mirror for a long moment and decided as soon as he shaved he would have to pluck his eyebrows again, then he drew a bath.” Those damn drags…nothing can be done the easy way.

Transvestites, carnivals and secret organizations… vintage Wood. Unlike many of his later novels, the writing is crisp, moves the story along and makes a weird kind of coherent sense. Wood was on the very top of his game writing this and its sequel—and it shows. Killer isn’t hampered by the hardcore sex that Wood was forced to put into his later works and this leaves more room for the weird characters, impossible situations and strange plot twists.

At the carnival, Glen meets Rose (getting her name from wearing nothing but red) and falls in love. Rose helps him elude the police, stop crooked cops and get away. All is happy in Glen’s world. He is free of the syndicate and on his way to a new life…or is he? The final chapter of Killer in Drag leaves the life of Glen in just as much turmoil as previously. Another drag, Pauline, meets with the mysterious Mouse at Glenda’s usual spot. Mouse hires Pauline to kill Glenda! Here, Mouse completes the transaction:

“That figgers… Sure don’t figger the syndicate pickin’ one like you.”
“Look buster…”
“No – You look – I don’t like drags. I ain’t never liked drags and I ain’t never gonna like drags. I’m a
middle man. I just pass on the orders and carry them out. Understand?”
“So order.”
“You got a long plane trip ahead.”
“I like planes.” She drank. “Where?”
Los Angeles.”
“Who do I do the job on?”
“One of your own kind, doll – one of your own kind.”

What happens to Glen/Glenda? Will he ever see Rose again? Can Pauline really kill the legendary Glenda? Tune in and find out in… Death of a Transvestite! Since Killer in Drag has been reprinted as late as 1998, finding the book is fairly easy. The cover price of $9.95 or less is standard for the 4Walls8Windows version. Finding a copy of Black Lace Drag or later reprints is a little more involved. Each of them should fetch around $100. It was also printed in 1967 as Black Lace Drag, in 1965 as Killer in Drag and Twilight Land, written by Sheri Blue.

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