Lover of the Fancy

Early C20th American culture and dissent

Little Men, Big World / Vanity Row
W R Burnett


Two novels, both published in 1952, that probe the political corruption of a big Midwestern city, where the real power is wielded behind the throne. Along with The Asphalt Jungle, these three novels form a thematic trio known as the Urban Trilogy.

Little Men, Big World: Ben Reisman, veteran columnist for the Journal, is bored. So when he stumbles across a reference to a character known as “De Ark,” an underworld person who seems to operate without anyone knowing about him, he is intrigued. “De Ark” is in fact, Mr. Orral Wanty, Arky to his friends, the right hand man of the Mover, the man who really runs the city. Arky’s control is so tight, even Commissioner Stark, the zealous law-and-order crusader, has never heard of him. But Arky’s hand is everywhere. He’s the man Leon Sollas, front for the syndicate, makes his weekly payment to–and he’s the man who Sollas goes to when he wants out. But Arky’s got problems of his own. The Big City Boys want to move in. His woman, Anna, wants a baby. And somewhere, hot on his trail, is a newspaper man in search of a story…

Vanity Row: Police Captain Roy Hargis is the Administration’s fair-haired boy, only answering to Chad Bayliss, the city’s political boss. Most of the officers are in awe of him. Hargis can do no wrong. He knows how to cut to the heart of a case and bring the facts home to the D.A.’s office. So when rich lawyer Frank Hobart is shot down in cold blood, it looks open and shut. Hobart had been fooling around with a babe named Ilona Vance, things got out of hand, and she kills him. But Hargis doesn’t figure it that way – not after he meets Miss Vance. Because Ilona Vance is a force to be reckoned with, not merely beautiful, but so desirable it almost hurts. Hargis will go to any lengths to get her off, but he’s up against it this time. The syndicate wants to see her burn, Bayliss wants a quick conviction, and Hargis is finding his tough shell has been thoroughly cracked.

Paperback, 344pp
Stark House Press, 2016 (1952)
ISBN 9781933586670


WILLIAM WILEY [“W R”] BURNETT (1899-1982) was an American novelist and screenwriter. He is best known for the crime novel Little Caesar, the film adaptation of which is considered the first of the classic American gangster movies.