Sunday, January 3, 2021

Kill One, Kill Two (Robert H. Kelston, 1958)

Things are looking just grand for Allen McCoy. He is an engineer that just completed building a dam in Mexican town Monterrey and is now expecting to receive a lucrative offer for working on an even bigger one in Guadalajara. Townfolks are so appreciative that they named the new dam's artificial lake after him. Not to mention that during his stay he has enjoyed a special kind of "appreciation" from Juanita and Lucy, the town's two loveliest ladies.

All this goes to shit on his farewell night when he gets framed for killing Raul. Raul was the estranged husband of Juanita and had left her for Emily. Emily is now with the sleazy lawyer Arturo Garcia whose brother is a local police captain. So captain and our hero form an alliance (of sorts) in order to get to the bottom of the killing. In short - everyone is deceiving and lying to everyone. We are in Mexico so (obviously) there will be narcotics involved.

A whirlpool of intrigue and murder with an innocent man turned amateur detective trying to prove his innocence. Not exactly my cup of tea but this time, I'm happy to report, it is an exception that proves the rule. 

The story is believable, its plot makes sense and is easy enough to follow, characters are interesting and not two-dimensional. But what makes it memorable is the authentic atmosphere. Lots of double talk and threats (often disguised as polite suggestions) so pretty soon the reader (and Allen too) needs to learn to read between the lines. It's a neat narrative trick that also serves to build our hero's character as a foreigner who has to adapt to the local customs. There's a great and pretty eerie scene in which he has to talk his way out of some dark shack while a hood is standing behind him with a switchblade waiting for Allen to slip in his "negotiations". Intense. No action, the whole ambient is built on dialogue alone.

Good stuff but not flawless. McCoy could be a bit more hard-boiled hero and should kick some ass instead of slapping women around. Plus, the climax takes way too long so it loses most of the intensity. 

I have never heard of Robert H. Kelston before and the reason I picked this one up was that it is paired with Peter Rabe's The Cut of the Whip in the Ace double edition. So I was intrigued a bit and googled the guy and came up with only this nice article. Seems like this was Kelston's only effort. And this is my effort to give him a tiny part in digital posterity.

4/5

Facts:

Hero:
Allen McCoy

Dames
Juanita Aguilar - Like Peter Pan, she lost her shadow.
Emily - When men left her it was for an appointment with death.

Location:
Mexican small border towns of Monterrey and Laredo.

“What a country!” Allen agreed. A country where one dame told you someone else’s husband was missing and where the missing man’s wife didn’t care about him but wanted a redheaded American engineer. 

Body count:
5

The object of desire:
“I don’t know who pushed him,” he admitted. “But I’m going to find out. I can’t leave Monterrey and I can’t work anywhere in Mexico until I do find out."

References:
It all began, he remembered, when the band played Guadalajara. It was like a symbol. Now everyone was playing Guadalajara for him, that and Get Out of Town. And the band had played Guadalajara badly, he remembered; even through the tequila he had noticed that. 

Cool Blurbs:
You can’t keep a good man dead

Title:
Not sure how to interpret it. It surely does not reflect the correct body count.

Edition:
Ace Double D-297

Cover
:
Feels a bit sloppy and hastily copy/pasted together. They should at least fix the white background of the title...

Cool lines:
/

Friday, December 25, 2020

A Nice Way to Die (Hank Janson, 1963)

Let me see if I got this one right: an exotic Slavic beauty arrives from Ileria with the sole purpose of wreaking havoc in America by corrupting its youngsters. Going from city to city stirring up ever-susceptible teenagers to make trouble and thus undermine US civic authority. To make things worse, this professional organizer of teenage crime is above the law. She has some (not really well-defined) post with one of the Commie embassies meaning she has been granted a goddam diplomatic immunity!

Ileria? One of the Iron Curtain countries with a rigid dictatorship that makes the Soviet regime seem like paradise by comparison.

You may be forgiven for thinking that this could be an intriguing attempt of the juvenile delinquent drama placed into McCarthy's communist witchhunt era. It's not. It's shit.

Not sure how to categorize it. It surely cannot be a mystery since as early as on page #14 (see 'object of desire' of the facts section below) everything is pretty much explained. It sure as hell isn't a fucking thriller unless you get thrilled by a gang rape? The action genre may possibly pass as our hero is proficient in scientific judo (huh?) and its mysterious art of healing called Karmo. I'm unfamiliar with these myself but this scientific/mysterious stuff must really be something since it also covers the handling of a woman's Adam's apple.

But then again, you wouldn't expect an author to know much about female anatomy when his attitude towards the fair sex is such as this:

"Right now I'd say you're about forty below zero - and as mean as a bitch out of season."

"That's what I like about you," she said waspishly. "You say such nice things. You're so sophisticated, so wordldly-wise, so..."

"Shut up!" I warned her sharply, "or you'll get a back-hander that'll spread your lovely lips all over your face."

She glowered at me, but she was perceptive enough to know I wasn't kidding. I almost never raise a hand in anger against the fair sex - unless it is really merited.

Very disappointing. I had bought a couple of Janson's early books a while ago because of their gorgeous Reginald Heade covers and they both turned out to be okay-ish. But this is just misogynistic thrash.

1.5/5

Facts:

Hero
:
See the scan on the right side

The bad guy(s):
See the 'dames' section below. But let us not forget the Blooded Zombies gang that even terrorizes the cops:

"Why - are they supposed to be something special?"
"Yeah," he said grimly. "Special - like vicious, mean, crazy. They call themselves the Blooded Zombies; they hell around looking for trouble. The boys tote switch-blade knives, zip-guns and choppers, the girls wear bicycle chains for belts - and don't mind using 'em. You were lucky you weren't cut to ribbons last night, man."
...
"You might be taking on more than you bargained for, Hank. They've got the whole community and half the cops as scared as rabbits."

Dames
There's Ellie, a teenage beatnik chic, but the communist nymphomaniac Miss Tanya Varsak obviously takes the center stage: 

This one was a real tasty dish - a dame who could start a revolution by running the tip of her tongue around her lips and letting a fleeting promise flash briefly in her dark, upslanted eyes.

Location:
L.A.

It opens in Chicago where our hero has just landed on the plane from New York. The whole thing is (once again) a bit silly. You see, Hank has recently exposed some shit on the almighty Organization that now in turn promised him revenge. So he finds some lame excuse to fly to sunny California - he's no longer able to operate in Chicago because everyone would be afraid to be seen in his company.

This whole episode is entirely redundant and has no implications on the following events. Just some padding used to reach the word count.

Body count:
Pretty early on, Hank is tired (!?) and takes a nap:

I yawned and stretched luxuriously and turned over and closed my eyes. That was where I made my big mistake. I should have hopped out of bed and put my ear to the keyhole. If I had done that it is quite possible I might have saved myself a whole mess of trouble - and maybe three lives.

The napping part is okay and I have no issue with but his body count doesn't match mine. I've counted a few more than just three although some of them don't get confirmed. For example - the car blows up with some kids in it but no definite death count is given later. So let's settle for the final figure of 5.

The object of desire:
My job, according to the Chief, would be to latch on to her and find out the score. He didn't put it quite like that though; what he said was, "Get the bitch in bed, Hank, and find out what makes her tick."

References:
"Take me now, Hank. Don't wait," she insisted, climbing on top of me with all the agility of Willie Shoemaker mounting a Derby winner.

Cool Blurbs:
"When she blew hot and cold, the climate was murder"

Kind of cool even though I admit I haven't got it. Surely the blowing thing doesn't imply what I (and you too) are thinking about. Or does it?

Title:
Once again, I'm a bit confused. Call me peculiar but there must be nicer ways to die than being gang-raped by a bunch of horny Mexican juvenile delinquents in a desert and then to perish "with a sorta PFUUUF! when the gasoline exploded"?

Edition:
Gold Star IL7-14

Cover:
Not credited but according to pulpcovers.com done by Paul Rader. Beautiful. I love the striking combination of gold blonde and red signaling the danger!

Cool lines:
Nothing really to report here. The whole thing is written in a trivial and below par of even the most simplistic pulp style. With some dialogues that embarrass our hero. Here's a sample that should give you an idea:

"You're both wrong," I chipped in. "The right guy only has to look in a girl's eyes and no matter how she blinks or flutters her eyelashes, or looks the other way, he knows - and she knows he knows."
The amber flecks in her eyes flashed dangerously.
"You mean like the way you're looking at me?"
"Uh, huh." I grinned. "Why not?"
"Oh - and you think you know, and I'm supposed to know you know. Is that what you mean?" She asked haughtily.
"Uh-huh!" I grinned again.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Stiffs Don't Vote aka Forty Whacks (Geoffrey Homes, 1941)

I'm a big fan of Geoffrey Homes and was saving this one for a special occasion. It's election day today so let's celebrate the mysterious ways of the US political machinery with a book about non-voting stiffs!

It blends personal grudges of a small-town community with the local politicians' dirty contest to win over the electorate. So when the crime takes place, our hero has plenty of possibilities to investigate. Was it business or personal? Combination of both? With a touch of a crime of passion thrown into the mix? 

Once the case is solved, it does turn out that the story was solid and without plot holes. The solution too is quite complex and far from trivial so hats down to the author. Only by the time it ends, I pretty much lost interest.

It's 180 pages long. Which by itself of course is not a problem. But what is problematic is that after the first killing nothing much happens. There are no new developments to speak of except our hero constantly recruiting his helpers. There's his hard-drinking greedy boss/partner, their recently hired secretary Robbie, a newspaper reporter, and finally some lawyer. All this doesn't really help the pace since now we have five people running around like headless chicken doing fuck all instead of just one.

But the most annoying and distracting thing is Humphrey's crush on Robbie. He starts hitting on her the very first day this poor gal gets hired (#metoo!?) and keeps giving her the assignments that are well above her pay rate just so he can keep her close to him. And toward the end, we need to endure crap as corny as this: 

He stood in front of her and his hands gently held her arms. There was so much he wanted to say, so much he could have said if Robbie had been someone else. No glibness now. All his pretty speeches valueless - because he had said them so many times before. And if they were true, they wouldn't sound that way. Repetition had robbed them of the ring of truth.

Ok, I'll give Mr. Homes some benefit of the doubt. You see, Robbie has a crush on Joe who is also the main suspect. So it may be possible that the author intentionally created this love(less) triangle to mislead the reader into believing that Joe is actually guilty so that Robbie will broken-heartedly fall in hands of our hero at the end. Kind of a double twist. But even if that were true, this shit is way too annoying to compensate for such a gimmick.

Well written with more than a decent plot but ultimately disappointing. Geoffrey Homes remains one of my main men so I'll call this one a slip and blame the editor instead of the author. Who knows how it would turn out with Robbie's character dropped (and consequently the book trimmed down for 50 odd pages) and some action sequences added. A few more stiffs wouldn't hurt it either.

2.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
"Is this Campbell any good?"
"Do you need a detective?"
"Not now," Joe said. "You never know."
"I think he is," Robbie explained. "He doesn't say. His partner does. His partner is a big fat man named Oscar Morgan and I think he drinks a lot. His partner says that the firm of Morgan and Campbell is the best detective agency in the world. He says it is the only honest one in existence."

Dames
Well, there is of course Robbie: Class and chestnut hair with a red sheen to it and a figure you couldn't hide under a man's overcoat. A patrician. He withdrew the word. Lovely was better. Lovely and clean and sweet. Nice lips, not too full.

But I liked more Mrs. Mary Otis and her bitchy attitude even though "the woman wasn't pretty but she looked kind and her ankles were good"

Her ankles?!!? What kind of a fetish is that? Anyway, after the promising start and memorable appearance in the classic dame-comes-into-the-office scene, she is denoted into the supporting cast and pretty much disappears until the conclusion. 

Location:
"Why?" Joe asked. "Why would anyone live in Joaquin?"
"I like it."
"It's flat and it's hot and it's corrupt," Joe said.
"The trees are lovely."

Body count:
1

References:
The book opens with Robbie meeting Joe and providing some missing verses of the song he's singing:

"The preacher he did come, he did come,
Oh, the preacher he did come, he did come.
And he looked so God-damn glum
As he talked of kingdom come..."

"I like that. Don't you like that?"
"I'm religious," Joe said. "It offends me. That's probably why I never learned it. Go on."

"As he talked of kingdom come-
God damn his eyes."

"There you are. Now sing it."

Great stuff. Hard-core! And needless to say, I was immediately off to google it. Didn't take long to identify it as the Sam Hall song and after reading the article on Wikipedia, I'm a bit embarrassed now for not knowing it before. Many variations from different performers are out there and it took me quite a few clicks more to find the one that's pretty close to what Joe is singing. You can (and really should) check out the lyrics here and while you are reading it, I can recommend listening to the Dubliners version.

God damn his eyes. Hell yeah!

Title:
Originally titled "Forty Whacks". Which is a great title and also relates to the story because our sole victim gets chopped up in pieces with an ax (!!!) and every now and then our man Humphrey hums this little chant to himself:

Joseph Border took an ax,
Gave his mother-in-law forty whacks

Why was this re-titled by Bantam? Was there some political campaign going on at the time and they took an opportunity to ride along and get some free publicity? Whatever the reason, they should have at least re-titled it properly as "Stiff doesn't vote" since there's only one murder in this one.

Dedicated to:
To Sally

Edition:
Bantam #117, October 1947

Cover
:
Not credited but according to pulpcovers.com, it was done by Hy Rubin.

Nothing too special about it but I love the girl's (amused?) expression and find the idea of placing the title as a political campaign slogan a bit naive but also very charming.

Cool lines:
Nothing really that I would usually consider to be cool. But since today is election day, here is a couple that proves that some things haven't really changed much for 80 years:

Some men were putting a twenty-four sheet on a billboard in the vacant lot across the street from the Cooper Building. It showed a meek little man having his pocket picked by a pig-faced gentleman labeled "Public Utilities." Looking hungrily on was an animated slot machine with his arm around a bawdy wench in a very low-cut dress.

Charles Hyatt had on white lounging pajamas cut Russian style, which would probably have annoyed his constituents who loved to hear him talk about the "Red menace."

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Revenge (Jack Ehrlich, 1958)

It's always a pleasure to read something different. This one is memorable for quite a few things and let's start with its unpredictability. The title and the cover suggest a somehow sleazy run-of-the-mill pulp yarn so it comes as a surprise when it opens with a proper - well planned and executed - bank heist. And continues with our anti-hero raping a woman! Encouraged by getting away with these crimes he then promptly ups the ante and assassinates some local mobster!?! There's simply no telling where the story will go next but it's clear it won't end well. And indeed, it does culminate in a big clusterfuck. With no sign of remorse or redemption from our asshole protagonist.

Described like this, you might think it's all a big mess but I'm happy to report otherwise. The author manages to keep it tight and there's a method to all this madness supported by some pretty twisted rationality that drives the narration. Definitely not your typical escapist quick read. I really needed to pay attention since there's not much dialogue and the narrator frequently digresses into the past describing and referencing the events that trigger his present actions.

 And most of all, it's not easy to stomach the sick shit like this:

I do believe that no woman can be taken only through rape. Except for the oddball, women are natural whores, and to make one requires very little. It's like Hoover said, a chicken in every pot and a whore in every bed. It's the American dream. A vine-covered cottage which is the price a guy has to pay.....

It doesn't change the fact that every man sells his soul to make a buck and every woman sells her body to share it with him. And it isn't really a bad arrangement...

But Ogden Nash once said it and I'll buy it: give the sissy his seduction, the he-man wants his rape.

Crazy. Simply insane. Would dare to guess that it was probably even more offensive in its time than it would be today in (unlikely) case it would even get published.

So yeah, Revenge is not a book about heist or rape or assassination. Instead, it's a character study of the sociopath. A guy who is full of hate and loathing for both himself and for society. 

Intense stuff and even though it does get a bit repetitive at times, there are still plenty of fascinating and occasionally even funny parts. As an example, I kind of liked his planning of the crimes. He's an ex D.A. assistant so he knows all the police technicalities and therefore prepares everything in advance with the utmost attention to detail and a great deal of enthusiasm. In his words: "It was a problem I enjoyed solving". To be honest, the guy does have a pretty decent sense of humor. Check out the 'cool lines' section of the facts below.

Not so humorous are the parts that deal with his mental state. There are numerous factors and circumstances like his dominant father, shameful (in his mind) army service, distrust of women, sexual frustrations, etc. They are of course all intertwined and it's hard to separate causes from the effects and I'm not sure whether I managed to solve the mystery of what had made this guy insane. I think the final piece of the puzzle lies in the really weird ending in which he finds refuge in his best friend's house. Not sure how to interpret the whole episode with the wife and kids and will have to think about it a bit. One confusing little nasty mindfuck this is.

An interesting book, memorable for many things. Most good and some simply awful. I'm pretty sure that some of Jim Thompson's psychotic characters wouldn't mind too much hanging out with John Cummings.

4/5

Facts:

Hero:
John Cummings. A prototype of a young white male suburban middle-class guy. Former high-school football star, former DA assistant, these days not the most prosperous lawyer but a quite efficient criminal with a decent strike rate. Also 100% psychopath.

Dames
His ex-wife Lou, his rape victim Jennie a.k.a. Mrs. John Frederick Fitch French III (!!) and his most recent romantic and emotional confusion personified called Sue. But they are pretty much dehumanized and we never really get a chance to know them better. I mean, check out his opinion of Sue and bear in mind that she gets the kindest share of his misogyny comparing to the other two:

Sue is a hell of a feminine dame and her clean freshness is more exciting than the most sultry slut.

Location:
A small town near New York

Body count:
1

The object of desire:
John is pissed off at the whole wide world and takes revenge against it.

Blackouts:
There was no pain at all, that's the funny thing. I had to fight to keep my mind concentrating. A lot of thoughts kept crowding in which had nothing to do with me. I tried to talk to myself but the gray blur came closer and closer to me and blanketed me.

References:
Then I piled the hi-fi full of records, mostly piano concertos. I put the Emperor Concerto on last because it's my favorite and played on two sides. I could flip the stack after the first playing and hear the ending of the Emperor in the right sequence.

Title:
See "The object of desire" section above

Edition:
Dell #A168, First Edition, October 1958

Cover
:
By McGinnis. One of those creepy, unsettling ones that make you feel like a voyeur and give you a bit of a guilty conscience for liking it.

Cool lines:
I maintained a detached interest in Lou's life like a man does in common stock which he sold too early and is now doing great things.

I felt revengeful and full of loathing and I felt the small and insignificant feeling a man gets when he gets looked over during a job interview.

Bit by bit, my practice was dropping off more every month. The golden degree tacked onto the Cummings name was fading into an oxidized bronze. It didn't matter, but it galled me because it proved people had more sense than I was willing to admit.

It was like a fever. Ideas and thoughts kept parading through my mind and I watched them like a bored jazz fan at the opera.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Syndicate Girl (Frank Kane, 1958)

It starts with a bang. Several bangs actually: a judge is assassinated, his wife witnesses the killing so she becomes collateral damage, a crooked cop frames a good cop for the hit, and finally - to make it sure I guess - the mobsters kill him and stage his death as a suicide.

And the best part is that all this mayhem is orchestrated by a woman. The woman! The titular Syndicate Girl who goes by the name of Mary Lister. She's a mob fixer and the top dog's messenger, later described as "more lethal than the atom bomb". Wow! Not often we come across such a badass heroine in these old paperbacks.

But on page 24 (after the job well done) she departs for the airport and we need to wait until page 167 for her to reappear. And when she does, we find her contemplating a cruise with her mafioso hubby because "the things are pretty quiet, and it's been a long time since we were away alone". And her man is planning to pull out of the rackets altogether.

So much for the atom bomb...

But anyway, our syndicate girl will never make that cruise. She packs her stuff and flies back to Jackson City to give this sleeper's remaining 25 pages at least some kind of a climax. Although, at this point, I pretty much stopped caring about how it finishes as long as it would be soon.

You may ask what happens in those 143 pages when she's not around? Nothing really worth reporting. Yet another Eliot Ness story about fighting corruption and ties between the politicians, mobsters, and media. Painfully slow and predictable.

This is my third or fourth Kane's non-Liddell book and I'm starting to lose my patience.

2/5

Facts:

Hero:
Mal Waters, a high-school football hero who went on to greater glory at Harvard law school, interrupted his studies to serve his time as a squadron leader in Korea and finally returned to his home town to become the D.A.

The bad guy(s):
Sylvan Murphy, top brains in the Syndicate. It was he who first saw the opportunities and advantages of organizing crime on a businesslike basis throughout the country.

I have to disagree with this. Especially after recently spending a week in Sicily where I visited No Mafia museum in Palermo.

Dames:
Besides Mary, there are several other tall and well-proportioned gals:
  • Rita - tall, breath-takingly proportioned redhead
  • Cora  - tall full-breasted brunette
  • Bonnie - tall, loosely put together in a way that flowed tantalizingly when she walked
  • Marta - tall for a girl, deep-breasted... full, even thick-lipped mouth
In all fairness, there actually is one cliche that the author manages to avoid. After being dumped by the cold and calculating Rita, our hero doesn't end up with Marta even though she's extremely honest, caring, understanding, etc.

Location:
Fictional Jackson City

Body count:
6

Way too low considering that we get the first three corpses in the opening chapter and that the book is almost 200 pages long. Should definitely be more. If nothing else, the two top dogs and both henchmen survive this one.

Also worth mentioning is that the whole episode about Bonnie's death and framing Mel is a blatant copy&paste from Kane's Green Light for Death published ten years earlier. Almost two pages, word by word.

The object of desire:
There's a cancer eating at this town. You can cover it up, but that doesn't stop it from eating. The only way to fight it is to tear it out of by the roots. That's what I intend to do.

Blackouts:
He was dizzily aware of a sinking sensation, then the ground came up and hit him in the face.

He tried to turn over, the floor tiled sickeningly and he slid into a merciful black void which erased the white-hot flashes and the searing pain from his skull.
Joey stared down at him without expression. "I don't think he's likely to get telephonitis in the next hour."

Cool Blurbs:
She was as tough as the hoods she worked with - until she met a man who made her feel like a woman

Not that cool, I'll admit. But decided to include it because it's totally false. No sparks, except a few leaded ones, are flying between Mary and Mal.

Title:
Well, even though Mary is not really the heroine, the title "Syndicate Girl" is much more cool-sounding than "D.A. Boy"

Edition:
Dell B123, First Edition, First printing - December 1958

Cover:
By McGinnis. One of his rare ones with no long legs, but still no less astounding.

Cool lines:
The killer hesitated for a moment, as though debating the advisability of making sure of the second kill. Instead he sprinted across the lawn to a row of hemlocks that had been planted to insure privacy. He melted into the shadows, satisfied there was no immediate pursuit.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Green Light for Death (Frank Kane, 1949)

We are used to our private sleuths being efficient, but Johnny Liddell tops them all in this one. Check out the recap of his first day on this case:
  • It opens in the morgue where he identifies the body of his client/friend Nancy and meets the Detective Seargent Happy (I kid you not!) Lewis
  • Together they go to the police station where we meet Lewis' superior Chief Connors. He's an asshole. See how crooked he is in the 'cool lines' section below.
  • Liddell goes back to the morgue to have a chat with the medical examiner
  • An hour later we find him lounging at the bar with "the ease born of long experience". He's then joined by Happy and they decide to pay a visit to Nancy's roommate
  • The interview with the redheaded singer Lorna Matthews goes well. She's more than willing to cooperate and not before long Liddell starts calling her baby.
  • He invites himself to wait for her in her apartment while she'll be out working. But pretty soon receives a couple of phone calls that confirm his suspicion of the foul play. 
  • He's back in the Connors' office.
  • The meeting doesn't go well. He's off to have another drink and to get his shit together. But this reclusion is abruptly interrupted by a couple of thugs who invite him to go see their boss.
  • It's one of those "engraved in lead" invitations so he has no choice but to accept it. He meets their boss and he's an asshole too.
  • In order to avoid charges of justice obstruction, our hero needs a new client. So he walks straight into the local newspaper office and arranges that they hire him as a special correspondent.
  • Then he drives to the town's outskirts where the club of the aforementioned asshole #2 is located. This, btw,  also implies that after his arrival at the train station he also needed to arrange a car rental after checking into the hotel.
  • He stirs some troubles in the club 
  • And drives Lorna home.
  • After dropping her off, he finds an all-night drug store and calls Happy to ask him some questions. At five o'fucking clock in the morning!

Talking about a slow day in the office!

And we are not even halfway through. Thankfully, by now Mr. Kane had sorted out his misconceptions about the time/space constraints and so Liddell's second-day appointment book is much thinner. He sleeps until noon, meets his reporter sidekick, obtains a pint bottle of Cognac, uses it to extract some info from a beautiful blonde, has sex with her (the blonde not the bottle), attends a briefing with his happy cop sidekick, and goes back to his hotel to take a nap! It's 8.45pm.

As brief as this segment is, it does give us the craziest part of the book. Liddell comes across a photo of some unidentified guy and promptly decides to charter a plane to send it to the New York agency headquarter so they can help him with identification. Furthermore, it's imperative that this photo gets back quickly in order for his inside man doesn't get compromised, so he makes his booking a round trip!

So yeah, by now our hero is out of steam and the author is out of ideas. For the remaining 100 pages Johnny will gradually abandon logical thinking and subtle approach to the investigation and instead rely on brute force. The whole thing dissolves into a bit of a mess with a far-fetched premise, silly twist, and resolution that one can see coming way ahead. Kind of a sloppy imitation of Hammett's Red Harvest. One of those that give you the impression that the author did have some initial concept but was simply too lazy to develop it.

But in spite of all that or maybe because of all that, it works really well. Even if you can't appreciate the chaotic storytelling and find our hero's relentless (even though not always rational) pursue of justice a bit silly, you'll find plenty of charm in this one.

3.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
This is only the second one of the series and Liddell is still working for an Acme Agency (that could explain why he can afford to charter planes for his mail delivery, right?) but he already has quite a rep:

"So you're the guy Nancy did all the raving about. To hear her go on, you're a cross between Sam Spade and Ellery Queen with a little Superman thrown in one the side."

The bad guy(s):
"This guy Mike Lane. What about him?"
"Bad business. The local Lucky Luciano and Buggsy Siegel rolled up into one. He looks fat and soft but he's strictly rattlesnake."

You did catch the misspelling of Buggsy Siegel, didn't you?

Dames:
Redheaded nightclub singer Lorna Matthews aka The Red aka Baby.
Cigarette girl Verna Cross. Miss Chenango County 1952. Blondie.

Location:
Fictitious burg called Waterville. A nod to Red Harvest's Poisonville?

Body count:
7

Blackouts:
Two of them. First, his ass gets kicked by the hoodlums:

He knew he was slipping, fought to maintain consciousness. There was another blinding flash behind his ear and he sank quietly into the engulfing depths of the black blot.

And a chapter later by the cops:

He hardly felt the rabbit punch that felled him, dropped across the unconscious body on the floor as though the ground had been moved out from under him.

Title:
"What's the green light mean?"
"It means the guy's a stoolie or a flycop. The floor men are to keep an eye on him while he's in the joint. When he leaves, we signal the boss here, and he arranges for him to get taken care of."
Liddell nodded. "Green for death. That's what I thought."

And this deserves some explanation. There's a major counterfeit money operation taking place in the Villa Rouge nightclub. The way it works is that when the big-time hoodlums (you know, from Chi) come to the place for the first time, the yellow stage light marks them. This triggers their background check and they'll get either the red or green spotlight next time. You already know what the green means but red indicates to Casino croupiers to let them win on the (obviously) rigged roulette tables so they can cash out their (counterfeit) money. This convoluted gimmick serves the purpose that they never know who the seller of counterfeit money is.

So yes, the whole thing is a bit bonkers. Leaving aside the unfortunate choice of colors (green for death, red for money?), I wonder if it doesn't violate the basic principle of trust between criminals. I mean, would you really go into the counterfeit money laundry business with somebody you didn't know?

Dedicated to:
TO MY MOTHER
with my deepest affection and gratitude

Edition:
Dell #918

There's no printing info on my copy which is a bit confusing. You see, it's copyrighted in 1949 but the novel actually takes place around 1955. Did I read a science-fiction story? Is my copy some hard-to-find collector item with the erratum on pg 116?

I googled it a bit and noticed it had been republished several times and that it also came out as a serial. So maybe my Dell edition came out later and was slightly altered since there's no usual "unabridged" note on the cover.

Doesn't really matter. I'm including a cool cover of one Crack Detective stories issue here and you can download another one here.

Cover:
Nice one by Victor Kalin. But couldn't resist adding yet another cover. Quite accurate btw as it depicts a scene in which Liddell breaks into "marijuana fueled orgy".

Cool lines:
Chief Connors' eyes stopped taking census of the flyspecks on the ceiling.

The cops in this town are so crooked they could hide behind a corkscrew without throwing a shadow.

The combination of her low-cut dress and Liddell's vantage point made the effect one of which Johnny eminently approved.

Back at the bar he ordered another brandy, tossed it off with a grimace. He was debating the advisibility of another to keep that one steady in his stomach when someone tapped him on the shoulder.

He cut off the sputtering from the other end by the simple expedient of dropping the receiver on the hook.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Desired (Carter Brown, 1959)

What the hell, let's quickly do another Carter Brown.

This one has a bit of Agatha Christie's feel about it. There is a closed group of unconventional characters and most of the action takes place in some secluded house. A thing to mention about this cast is that there's really no need for any of them to be particularly extraordinary. It does neither help nor hurt the story itself.

But, I guess, everything in Carter Brown universe must be over the top and it would be silly to complain about the lack of realism and sloppy characterization. Let's instead move on and take a look at our hero.

Al Wheeler certainly is no Hercule Poirot and resembles more of something like the clueless Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther series. Especially in the first half which ends with the failure of his ingenious plan to lure the killer into a trap. During the ambush, our man messes things up, gets knocked off, and - upon awaking - discovers the additional corpse that he now needs to deal with. But the blow on his head seems to do him some good because he gets his shit together and starts a proper investigation.

So the second half is much better as the plot actually thickens and the pace accelerates to a memorable and bizarre ending. Wheeler makes yet another fuckup that results in a shootout and a bunch of fresh corpses. There's this shy, fragile, young secretary Ellen who was abused both physically and mentally before this climax and is now understandably shaken and terrified by the whole ordeal. And yet, the bloodbath makes her horny!!?! So guess how she and our hero decide to calm themselves down for half an hour that the law will need to get to the scene. Needles to say, the sex act will happen off the page.

And there's another instance of such sex & violence weirdness. Just as crazy as the one above.

Sexy Bella is needling and teasing our hero right from page one. But once she starts ridiculing his virility, he snaps and... basically starts raping her. The whole package - ripping off her clothes, twisting her arm, her struggling and crying... The whole page of such shit. He does regain his senses just in time and (I think) is ashamed of his attempt but then it comes: "What made you stop?" and "Maybe that'll teach you not to reject an unconditional surrender when a girl offers one!"

It's just stupid. Stupid for all the usual reasons but also because it's totally redundant since it adds nothing in terms of plot progressing or character development. Would argue that the book is not misogynistic and just as sexists as most of the pulpy stuff written in that period. So these isolated episodes don't feel genuinely mean or nasty, they are more like something thrown in with the intention of adding a bit of spice. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that stuff like this was encouraged by the publishers in order to stir some controversy that would boost sales.

In any case, it's a shame since it tarnishes otherwise more than a decent book.

3/5

Facts:

Hero:
Me, I'm a cop, but I look like a bum actor in search of a middle-aged matron worth her over-weight in diamonds.

The bad guy(s):
Tino Martens had been in the rackets since maybe the first time he whipped a diaper off the kid in the next cradle when the kid wasn't looking.

Dames:
Isobel Woods, Tom's daughter
A tall blonde, with her hair hanging down across one eye, and the build of a female Viking.

Ellen Mitchell, Tom's secretary
She had an intelligent, elfin face, and the kind of figure I started dreaming of way back when I first realized a honeymoon wasn't for eating.

And my favorite - Pearl, the ex-stripper, now Tom's spouse.
"I bet you look just the way Jean Harlow used to look," I said sincerely.

Location:
Fictitious Pine City

Body count:
6

Blackouts:
The usual stuff with explosions and pitch-black void:

Then the sky fell on my head, and the world drifted down around my face slowly, the pieces disintegrating in sharp, painful explosions of white light inside my skull. I could see the brilliant flashes and I knew the explosions had to be outside, but I felt the pain inside. Then suddenly it was all over, and I drifted comfortably in a pitch-black void, peaceful as the womb.

But the way he comes out afterward is pretty original:

I was still swaying gently, like a teen-ager exposed to rock and roll for the first time.

References:
"Was it Jung who said the mind is its own censor - that we live in the same world, but to each individual it's a different world, that no happening or incident is the same to any two people?"
"I wouldn't know," I told her. "I do know it was Wheeler who asked the question and you haven't answered it yet."

I put Ellington's "Indigos" on the hi-fi machine because it made superb mood music right then. Most of the song titles seemed an accurate forecast of my future - "Solitude" - "Autumn Leaves" - and the rest of them.

I was listening to this record while writing the review and really liked it. Just gloomy and melancholic enough for these strange covid-19 days

Title:
Not sure to whom this is supposed to refer. True, all three women are desired, but none of the killings is a crime of passion.

Edition:
Signet D2654, Third Printing

Cover:
By McGinnis. From that perspective, shouldn't the mirror reflect her body?

Also adding an earlier Signet edition cover painted by BaryĆ© Phillips. A bit more accurate because the book actually opens with a car crash.

Cool lines:
Around one-thirty in the afternoon, Doc Murphy bounced into the apartment. He ripped off the bandages with the loving tenderness of a barracuda shark taking a sample bite out of a well-upholstered girl swimmer.
"Huh!" he grunted when the last bandage had been torn off. "The most amazing thing about you, Wheeler, is that you're healthy!"
"It's just clean living, Doc," I said modestly. "I live by the rules - the three W's - you know, wine, women and willful smoking."

Tino admired the excellent manicure job on his fingernails for a moment, then looked up at me with his big St. Bernard eyes.
"One of these days I might find the time for it," he said pleasantly. "It could be kind of amusing."
"Time for what?" I said. "Another manicure you don't need?"
"To take you apart, copper," he smiled thinly. "See what kind of sawdust comes running out."
"You said that deliberately," I told him reproachfully. "Now you know I won't sleep nights."

She bent over her typewriter, pounding the keys like they were part of my face. I lit a cigarette and though profound thoughts about life - like a good woman is never hard to find - it's the bad ones who are so hard to get.