Published in 1953, this book opens with this passage from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream: "Lovers and madmen have such seething brains, Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend More than cool reason ever comprehends." Ah, leave it to the wit of ye ol' timey bard to let you know you are in for a classy read!
Lovers and Madmen is the story of Ellen Travis—attending Cromwell College on a drum majorette scholarship, she was the most desirable coed on the campus. It is also the story of William Blake—professor of Philosophy was just his cover, his real mission was to uncover communist subversives on campus. When these two got together, the sparks flew as well as the bullets! Here's how Devlin introduces us to Ellen:
She was uncommonly pretty—she knew that, and it was not out of conceit—just fact. With honey-blonde hair that framed her head like a halo, with tiny curls half-hiding her ears—on that basis alone she would be termed “cute.” But there was more. Her frank, open face with eyes that could be coy and inviting by turns and with a mouth that did not need lipstick to be kiss- able, had made more than one student pause and stare in slack-jawed admiration as she walked across the campus.
Her gray-green eyes left her face and traveled downward over her body. High-placed full bosom, softly rounded tummy, hips with breathtaking curves, long legs with a firmness that came with plenty of exercise. Her skin, she was pleased to note, still had the faintly bronzed tint she had acquired in the summer months as a bathing suit model in Bermuda.
Bermuda . . . the word aroused memories, the kind she would rather she forgot. But you couldn’t erase things just by wanting to. They were still there warmly . . . the languid, star-kissed nights on the beaches when they went spear-fishing by torchlight in the lagoons where the fish were trapped by the out-going tides. And afterwards, after the guides had gone, the swimming in the gentle, caressing surf that shone brightly of phosphorescence. And when they tired of swimming, they would lie in the shallow water, feeling the occasional waves reach up and cover them . . . even now she could remember the hard-muscled chest against hers nakedly, her breasts crushed between their bodies, as she looked up into the face that was contorted with the efforts of passion, while the water licked sensuously at them...
As the story progresses, the couple comes under attack. Blake is forced to hide out in the country when he meets an Amazonian farmer's wife named Honey Brooks. Ellen teams up with her naive roommate Polly to track the dastardly lesbian commie, Miss Davis. Here Miss Davis tries to get answers from Ellen as she goes all Jack Bauer on Polly:
"So you won't get down, eh?" Miss Bailey’s hand swung around in a short arc. The whip made a low whistle and wrapped itself around Polly’s knees. When it came away, part of the skirt came with it. With a cry of pain, Polly went down.
It was apparent that the younger girl was paralyzed not only out of fear of the whip, but also out of her long-time fear and awe of Miss Bailey. She knelt in an attitude of submission before the woman, oblivious of the fact that her skirt was shredded, revealing her sheer hose tops clinging to her full thighs. Where her knees bent, the flesh bulged outward into symmetrical curves. Stoically, she awaited Miss Bailey’s next move. It was not long in coming. Again the whip lashed out and again it took away part of Polly’s clothing. Yet it was done so expertly that no blood was drawn from her fair skin. At last, the girl was clad in only her flimsy pink bra that did more to accentuate rather than disguise her breasts, her pink silk panties, stockings, and high—heeled shoes.
Miss Bailey paused in her labors. "You see, Miss Travis, I know how to handle this weapon. You can also see that there is not much left to work on before I use Polly’s bare skin as a target. Are you ready to talk?"
Ellen’s confidence in her own fortitude was great, great enough to withstand anything anyone could inflict on her. But to have to watch her friend’s body lacerated into a bloody pulp was something else again. Torn between her desire to protect Bill Blake, and her regard for Polly Manders she could only shake her head in disbelief.
Without warning, the whip sang and cracked across Polly’s thighs. The rosy garters were severed and a red stripe appeared on the Hesh beneath them. Polly quivered. Released of their bonds the nylons loosened and crept down her legs. Once more the black thing moved, this time across the girl’s slender, graceful back. The bra straps parted and the garment fell to the floor. The young, ripe breasts were bared. As if by divination. Ellen knew they would be the next targets...
The thought of the matchless beauty of Polly’s bosom being scarred, perhaps for life, by the stroke of a whip, was unbearable to Ellen. It was then that she made up her mind to talk.
But before the words came out, John Davis spoke up. “Terry! Hold it! ” Releasing Ellen, he took quick steps over to Miss Bailey and wrenched the whip from the woman’s startled grasp.
“No more," he snapped. "I’m not getting chicken, but there is nothing that calls for the torture of this kid. I’m not having any of it. Now lay off."
Miss Bailey regarded him with cold eyes. “You know," she breathed, "that I’ll report you."
"I don’t give a damn what you do. I’ve got a good enough record so I won’t have to worry. But if you think I’ve sunk to the depths you have, then you’re crazy."
At his last word the Bailey woman cried, “Don’t use that word to me! I’m not crazy!"
Davis smiled. "Of course not, Terry—I was only kidding." But from the look in his eyes Ellen knew he was not kidding...
Miss Bailey calmed down. A crafty smile curved her lips. She knelt next to the speechless Polly and put her arms about her. "Forgive me, Poll," she whispered, and commenced kissing the marks the whip had made. Her lips sought the red stripes on the girl’s body. They lingered endlessly on the flesh, moving slowly from one mark to the other. Once Ellen thought she could see the red tip of the woman’s tongue.
Next her mouth went to Polly’s back and the long lash scar there. "See,” she mumbled, “I don’t hate Polly. It’s the Travis girl that makes me do it . . . is this what you want, john? To have me prove I am not crazy? There, I’ll even kiss the places the whip didn’t touch . . . these places here . . .
Eventually our heroes are reunited and the action moves to tracking down the last baddie as he attempts to assassinate Ellen while she drum majorettes, or whatever it is the drum majorettes do, at the BIG game.
All-in-all Lovers and Madmen is a rather entertaining read with an unexpectedly harsh and abrupt ending that kinda made me appreciate it all the more.