Monday, June 28, 2021

No Angels For Me (William Ard, 1954)

No messing around in this one. No hero's background, no family shit, etc. It opens with our main man Luke identifying the corpse of his gumshoeing colleague and then follows the genre's established rules. At least for a while.

It's one of those in which the investigation will be based on a list. Four names (suspects?) in this particular case and very soon things get quite complicated. But not so much that one can't follow even though not everything makes sense all the time.

As it moves on, a slightly annoying element of an amateur sleuth in form of the victim's kid sister Gloria is introduced. To make things worse, she's in love with our hero. Always has been... But to make things better straight away, it's not one of the usual silly puritanical romances. She's pretty cool (see the 'Cool Lines' section below) and, believe it or not, Luke and Gloria will actually end up in bed. Unmarried! And not just once, but twice.

In the meantime, the plot thickens further. Luke's boss has some secretive phone calls with the recently widowed wife of his other (obviously, now ex) investigator. So far pretty standard stuff and not bad at all. We are now approximately three-quarters through and expecting this to slowly unravel. 

Wrong. It's actually about to really start!

After the second blackout (details, as always in the 'Blackouts' section below) Luke goes into some sort of a hyperactive berserker mode. He kills one (probably two) of his captors, storms into a club where he kills another dude, steals a million bucks worth of diamonds (safe was left open for some reason), and kidnaps beautiful Marta!!!

If this was what they wanted, this is what they would get.

Huh? 

Believe it or not, it gets better still. He drives back to his flat but only to realize that the bad guys are waiting for him there. Which, btw shouldn't really have surprised him all that much since he just stole a shitload of  (technically theirs) diamonds. A high-speed chase follows on the busy streets of New York during which he gets so scared that at one point actually closes his eyes while driving through the red light! I think this was my favorite part. Simply priceless!

Craziness continues. Once he manages to lose his pursuers, he drives to Gloria's flat where they have a quickie while Marta (remember - the hostage) sleeps peacefully in the bedroom. After such a hectic night Luke simply goes to sleep. He'll take care of those diamonds in the morning.

And in the morning it will get even better but this post is (once again) running too long so I'd better wrap it up. And leave it to you to check it out.

Hilarious stuff, I loved it! What the hell was Ard thinking? Was the deadline really so tight that he couldn't make a quick revision of this madness? But then again, if this was revised, I somehow don't think it would be so memorable.

4/5

Facts:

Hero:
Luke MacLane, private investigator

Dames
A kid-turned-woman Gloria, all-but-insatiable nymphomaniac Helen, and Didi with enough height to distribute her comfortable-looking weight. All cool, beautiful, and interesting but still, blown away by beautiful Marta who is in a class all by itself:

She was neither tall nor short, only beautiful. A beautiful, black-haired, sloe-eyed woman who generated sexual excitement with every lithe movement of her magnificent figure.

Location:
New York and New Jersey

Body count:
4 confirmed and 2 very probable as Luke in his frenzy doesn't even bother to check whether they are dead or not

The object of desire:
"Diamonds. They insured a shipment for something called the Jewelers Exchange. The shipment disappeared off the pier. Two million dollars' worth of precious stones - gone into thin air."
MacLane's eyes were puzzled, but before he could voice the question, Heenahan's raised hand stopped him.
"We aren't hired to recover anything. Fidelis smells an inside job and all they want us to do is probe gently, nose around without any excitement and especially no gunplay."

No gunplay? Yeah, right!

Blackouts:
Two of them, none really remarkable. The first one is a standard blow from behind:

He stepped noiselessly inside, and from the sharp pain that seared the base of his skull, Luke thought the pier itself had crashed down on top of him.

And on the second occasion they slip a mickey in his whiskey:

Luke was helped through the drape but that was as far as his legs were going to carry him. As he swayed toward the floor, his last conscious thought was of Didi Marsh. And in the room the band played on.

But what deserves mentioning is the way he comes out. He awakes with his hands tied behind his back and guarded by a couple of hoods. When they are about to shoot him they spot that they had tied him using some complicated sailor knot which could lead the cops back to them. So they untie Luke and he seizes this opportunity to set himself free.

Great stuff and definitely in the top 10 of miracle rescues! Or at least in the top 10 of most original ones... Are these two guys consummate professionals or are they just plain stupid? 

References:
A burlesque song he had first heard in his teens, then again in a Yokohama music hall. It was the one that goes, "I've got what you want, mister - something you don't get from your sister" - and it ends up that she's talking about a drink.

Sounds fun so I - of course - googled it and came up with a bunch of siblings bullying and abuse links. So much for Google's artificial intelligence...

Title:
Don't really know how to interpret it. There's some high-brow talk about the angels though:

"It's a rough, dirty business," Luke said. "You don't meet any angels."
"Then why was George in it? Why are you?"
MacLaine turned his head and looked at her.
"I don't know about your brother," he told her. "But I'm no angel myself."
"Neither am I," the girl said tensely. "Not when it comes to finding the person who killed George."

Edition:
Popular Library #591, June 1954

Cover
:
Simply stunning, probably one of my favorites ever. Nothing special really - a guy with a gun and a beautiful woman with a cigarette... but it simply works. Pure noir.

Not credited and no visible signature. Any ideas?

Cool lines:
"Oh, Luke!" a woman cried.
Oh, hell, he thought.

"I think maybe the man needs a drink," she said.
"No. One wouldn't be enough. The taste in my mouth is too strong."
"Maybe a woman would help. A willing one, Luke, who wouldn't talk too much."

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Sin in Their Blood (Ed Lacy, 1952)

If such a sub-genre as left-wing pulp fiction exists, this one would be its prime example. Not only it does not shy away from themes of communist paranoia, anti-war sentiment, racism, homophobia, and feminism, but it actually uses these social issues as the plot devices. Cool and smart. But make no mistake - "Sin in Their Blood" is far from some liberal rambling. It's a terrific hard-boiled thriller.

Lacy really could write. This is only his third novel, but it reads like it was penned down by a seasoned professional. Simple is beautiful - fast pacing, a straightforward plot that's easy to follow but still offers a few nice twists, intriguing multi-faceted characters, and excellent use of dialogues. Our guy is no testosterone-driven superhero so instead of the usual flashy one-liners, we have plenty of more subtle lines that effectively create the atmosphere. Again, cool and smart.

It's not faultless. There are several slightly far-fetched coincidences and some not-easy-to-swallow plot developments. Can a cop really bring along his friend to the scene of a crime? Furthermore, is it normal for this cop to offer his buddy's services (our hero is an ex-private dick) to the main suspect?

But let's not dwell too much on these minor issues and instead pretentiously speculate that the author simply made a tradeoff (or two) in order to quicken the plot progress. 

No masterpiece but still a very interesting and enjoyable page-turner. This is my 3rd or 4th Lacy and I'm beginning to think that this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship and not just a brief acquaintance. Seems like the two of us will be spending more time together as this guy was quite prolific and his stuff is pretty affordable on eBay. So stay tuned.

4.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
He told the clerk, “Matt here was the toughest private dick in town.”
“Well, well,” the clerk said in a deadpan voice that must be an occupational disease with hotel clerks.
“He was a rough cookie. Say, every time I see this Humphrey Bogart doing his stuff in the movies I say to myself, them Hollywood jokers ought to get Matt Ranzino on the screen and really see a rough clown in action.”

But again, do not be fooled. When we first meet Matt he's just a confused hypochondriac with the mysterious "bug" in his lungs. Tuberculosis or the guilty conscience he carries for killing kids and women in Korea? Interestingly, Lacy uses a similar metaphor with imaginary (?) cancer in his "The Men from the Boys" that followed this one a few years later.

Anyway, the plot moves on and with it, our hero's character develops too. I'd say that in his first transformation he goes from being numb to simply not giving a flying fuck. There's a great WTF moment early on after he starts working on the case:

Maybe I should have told Max about the water being off—not that it was conclusive proof of anything, still it could be enough for a starter, a real investigation. But what would that get me? I didn't give a damn about the case, who killed who, didn't want to get on it in the first place. Max was happy, so was Saxton, and I had two hundred bucks and was tired.

Huh? So much for the P.I. working relentlessly on the case and fighting fearlessly for the Lady Justice. But don't worry, he will find redemption and peace of sorts at the end. To conclude this section, I can only say that Matt Ranzino is a great guy and spending a couple of hours in his company was great fun.

The bad guy(s):
Thatcher Austin isn't exactly THE baddest guy but he's definitely the weirdest one and I must admit that I couldn't help liking him. Or did I simply feel sorry for the poor schmuck? He's fanatically obsessed with communism and with his meticulous filing of any kind of information on subversive "red scare" activity, references to Hoover and McCarthy are of course unmissable. Must have been quite daring to publish this stuff in 1952 and I would guess it certainly didn't help make sales better.

Dames
We have Flo and we have Mady and they present our hero's past and present respectively. Both cool and interesting but even though Flo is a "sensual blonde", I think I'd rather hang out with Mady:

“Mady's a good kid, but with a lot of spirit, and that gets her in trouble because guys don't understand it.”
“What kind of spirit—besides the bottled ones?”
“Independence. She's on this equality for women line like some people get religion."

And Matt seems to share my sentiment about Flo:

The months hadn't hurt Flo. She still had the fluffy blond hair, the sensuous mouth, and her chic dress proved beyond any doubt she had a full figure and wasn't wearing a bra. Her firm full breasts seemed to be held at the nipples, like two jack-in-the-boxes, waiting to spring over the low-cut dress. But I really wasn't looking at her fleshy bosom or the long shapely legs and the bit of round thigh that showed as she sprawled on the couch—I was only watching that over-red mouth, afraid of it.

Location:
See the "Dedicated to" section below.

Body count:
3

The object of desire:
“Let's get this over. What do you want?”
“To convict you—get you out of my hair for good. Too many of your kind in the world these days. Everywhere I turn I see the smug, self-righteous, self-appointed...” I stopped. There wasn't any point in making a speech. 

Blackouts
:
After killing the entire family of peasants in Korea, he blacks out and then awakes three days later in a Tokyo hospital with "the fever that puzzled the hell out of the docs". It wouldn't really puzzle me, but anyway, this one doesn't really count, does it? We do need to wait for the proper blackout almost until the end:

I heard the faint swish the gun made through the air. A flash of terribly bright pain swept over me and then I was drowning in heavy mushy darkness.

I must have been out a long time. When I came to I thought I was still up in the clouds... I was naked and hanging from the doorway by my wrists, which were roped to pipes some place on the bathroom wall.

But only now his ordeal really begins. The killer wants to disguise the murder as an accident so he savagely beats him in and out of consciousness several times. Which of course is bad enough, but the really nasty part is that between the beatings he lets the freezing cold draft into the apartment so that Matt's lungs would finally collapse. Nasty, sadistic stuff. 

References:
For the obvious one, see the "Bad Guy" section. 

And there's a couple of other interesting ones worth mentioning. The concept of the two best cops buddies that have met in the department boxing champ will sound very familiar to James Ellroy's fans and the con game from The Sting is described here to the minutest details.

Title:
It's cool sounding but I must admit that its meaning eludes me. Don't expect some heavy Ross Macdonald type of family tragedy in which sins usually flow in abundance in everyone's veins.

Dedicated to:
No dedication but there's this somewhat peculiar introduction:

This book is entirely a work of fiction. All incidents, characters, names and places are made-up and not based on any actual persons or places. But the type of murder on which this story is based has actually taken place many times in the past and, unfortunately, even in the present.

Interesting, but this introduction is omitted from the eBook version that I have.

Edition:
MacFadden MB 50-255, 1966

Cover
:
See the "Blackouts" section. 

Cool lines:
Max bent down to get his pint out—why do they always keep it in the bottom drawer? The top would be more convenient—and I said, “Not for me.”

Harry shrugged. “I didn't make the laws. All I know is it's legal, patriotic, and pays off. People are scared, worse than during Prohibition. Hell, now people are scared to even look at a sunset any more—it's red.”

Sunday, April 11, 2021

No Business for a Lady (James L. Rubel, 1950)

Another blonde (don't let the cover fool you) bombshell private eye, but this one very different from Mavis Seidlitz whom we had the pleasure of meeting in the previous post. For this one, I'm still a bit on the fence.

It's most definitely no page-turner. The plot is based on some pretty ludicrous premise and the story progresses painfully slow as our heartbroken heroine runs around pretty much with no apparent (or at least wroking) plan about solving the case. We need to wait for 100 pages for the first (and the only one) corpse!? One thing that helped me pass time was counting occurrences of the word "love".

But on the other hand, I have found Miss Donovan to be a really interesting lady, far from some stereotypical blonde bimbo. Sure, I prefer to have my private detectives more hard-boiled but in this one, the lack of toughness and witty one-liners is well compensated with well defined and developed character. Eli is an ex-burlesque girl (!), ex-Marine (!!) who needs no man to take care of her and has her life priorities all figured out. Check out the 'title' section of the facts below and you'll see what I mean,

And to return to the plotline - yes, it is a bit bonkers and not very plausible but at the same time it's at least original and there are some twists and turns towards the end. The final revelation makes sense which is something we cannot really say for some of these old paperbacks we are addicted to, right?

Hardly my cup of tea, but still I'm glad I've checked it out. It seems like one of those unfortunate ones that was simply ahead of its time. Not just because it has a female protagonist but also because of its feminist angle (again, check out the 'title' section below). I suspect the publishers didn't quite know how to promote it as the first edition's cover portrays a damsel in distress which Eli is most definitely not. It took Gold Medal eight (!) years to reprint it and the second time around they gave it a more proper illustration. Who knows how the sales would have been affected if these two covers were reversed...

3.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
From the front cover:
Meet Miss Donovan, the only private eye who wears mascara. She's easily the most beautiful shamus living.

From the back cover:
Most detectives have angles, but here's one who has curves.

Dames
See the 'hero' section.

Location:
L.A.

Body count:
1

Blackouts:
The first time she faints is due to the hangover she has over too many Sazaracs. Absinthe + whiskey? Ouch! She surely can be forgiven.

Then we have a couple of proper ones:

Something heavy and enveloping dropped over my head, the gun was wrenched from my hand, and the blackness exploded into blazing light. The light faded into a whirling dervish of stars that spun faster and faster until they too were blacked out by utter darkness.

And:

The room was suddenly filled with thunder. The bottle broke off at the neck and I smelled vodka. After that my knees were too weak to hold me any longer. I went back into my cocoon for another rest.

Yes, indeed she is a hard-working gal who deserves her fee!

Cool Blurbs:
See the 'hero' section.

Title:
"This is no business for a lady."
I shook my head and smiled at him. He was a swell friend and I liked him. But he hadn't analyzed me correctly. I liked men. I loved they whistled when they saw me. I was still young and I had a lot of years ahead of me before my hair turned gray, my face got lined, and the whistling stopped. I couldn't picture myself living in semipoverty surrounded by wet diapers and screaming infants. Maybe someday I'd be lucky enough to meet the right man. Until I did-?
I said, "Sorry, Bill. But I'm no lady."

Edition:
Gold Medal #765, Second Printing, May 1958

Cover:
No credit is given to the illustrator and there's no signature I could locate. This time even the ever-reliable pulpcovers.com can't help. Any ideas?

Cool lines:
For the final time, see the 'title' section

Sunday, March 14, 2021

None but the Lethal Heart (Carter Brown, 1959)

With such a badass cover, this post was scheduled to be published on International Women's Day. I'm not writing this on the 8th of March, so you can probably guess right away about where this review is heading.

Mavis Seidlitz is just not a heroine appropriate to celebrate strong and independent women. She's supposed to be an equal partner in the Rio Investigations detective agency but this "partnership" is a bit odd. You see, It is completely normal for her partner Johnny Rio to throw an appointment book at her for being late, orders her around to bring him drinks (needless to say without "please" and/or "thank you"), and - worse of all - solves the case for her because she herself is too incompetent and dumb enough to drown in the rain.

Annoying and sometimes pretty nasty. Towards the end there's a scene in which Johnny shoots (pretty much in cold blood) a suspect and this is the exchange that follows between our duo of partners:

"Tell me something, Johnny" I said. "When you shot at Marian Stern, did you mean to kill her?

He thought about it for a moment. "I don't think so, Mavis," he said finally. "I wanted to make sure I stopped her shooting Rafael - I think there's a difference somewhere. Why?"

"Just for future reference," I said. "Otherwise I wouldn't feel safe when you got mad at me."

Partnership? Looks more like some kind of abusive and dysfunctional relationship to me.

I wanted to like this and had hoped that Mr. Brown would have toned down his male chauvinistic crap at least when his hero is a female. But instead of satirizing the stereotypes, he uses them for his leading character (non) development. Too bad. Can't really say I was very surprised, more like disappointed.

Other than that, the novel is surprisingly okay. It does take several chapters to get into its goofy sense of humor but then it is genuinely funny. Especially the first half in which Mavis and Rafael are running around like Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant trying to dispose of the corpse with every attempt more silly than the previous one. 

This gag becomes a bit too repetitive and eventually wears off. But still, there are other things to enjoy. The supporting cast is pretty colorful and I liked the dictator's spoiled son Arturo a.k.a. "The Fabulous" and beatnik Terry with his incomprehensible ramblings. Dig this jive:

"It was a kick", he said simply. "What else is there, doll? Don't you want me to have any fun? You a square or something - don't you dig this jazz?"

So yeah, more or less a standard Carter Brown quick read. A product of its time that publishers these days wouldn't give a second thought. I have two more Mavis Seidlitz books but I don't think I'll bother chasing the others in the series. And for the next 8th of March, I'll rather do a post with Dark Angel or Baroness. Until then, happy International Women's day to all you ladies out there. You rule the world!

3/5

Facts:

Hero:
But then I remembered I was Mavis Seidlitz, a full partner in Rio Investigations and I could handle a situation on my own. Anyway was I a girl or a gopher? Did I have red blood in my veins or perfume? So I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders determinedly and wouldn't you know I'd bust a bra strap at the same time!

Dames
Mavis Seidlitz, the torrid blonde private eye.

Location:
L.A.

Body count:
4

Blackouts:
Mavis faints when she discovers corpse #2. Of course she does since she's a woman, right?

References:
He pressed the doorbell and inside the house chimes played something that sounded like it was from My Fair Lady. I figured it wasn't really, because they have something called copyright, don't they, which means it's only right to copy if you pay for it, and I figured Milroyd wasn't the guy to pay for anything if he could avoid it.

Title:
Have no idea what the expression "None but the Lethal Heart" means. I googled it and got back a bunch of links to heart-related diseases. 

Edition:
Signet #1694, First printing, August 1959

Cover
:
Outrageously funny and definitely in my top 10. She didn't even bother to take off the high heel shoes!?! Plus check out the defiant look she's giving us - I don't think this gal has any guilty conscience and I'd bet she'll sleep like a baby tonight!

And it's actually pretty accurate as our heroine indeed does dig a hole:
I had a shallow hole ready in no time, being a healthy girl.

There's a tiny signature in the bottom right corner that looks like Barye. So probably by Barye Phillips?

Cool lines:
Like mentioned before, it takes some time (and effort) to get into "Carter Brown humor" mode. Stuff like this I do understand and find funny:

He believes the shortest distance between two points is a bullet.

Stuff like this I get and I find amusing:

I flung open the front door and stepped out onto the porch, and that was as far as I got. A small blue sea broke over me, carrying me back into the entrance hall again. Then the sea sorted itself out into four beefy, uniformed cops, and a gray-suited character with a face that would have made him top man on the totem pole on any reservation.
"O.K.!" The gray-suited guy snarled at me. "Where's the body?"
I took a deep breath and looked down - the scarlet shirt was stretched as tight as it could be. "If you can't see the body, you need glasses," I said coldly.

And then there are the weird ones like this:

This radio gadget is a cute deal - when it gets around to eight o'clock, it switches on the radio all by itself. Then five minutes later it squawks like a Democrat who's just been goosed by an elephant.

Democrat goosed by an elephant?

Sunday, March 7, 2021

The Star Trap (Robert Colby, 1960)

This one truly is a quick read. Not just because of the fairly large font and decent line spacing; it simply races through at the neck-breaking speed. Here's an example: there is a highway chase scene in which our hero is pursued by cops at 96 mph (=154 km/h!). The real deal. With the red lights and blaring sirens behind him. Glenn is an actor, not the badass Ryan O'Neil-like driver - so how the hell does he manage to escape?

Well, it won't take him longer than a short paragraph:

I searched frantically for some brilliant manoeuvre and there wasn't any. Then I swayed past a truck and into the first decent curve. The red eye closed from view. I had a few seconds' grace and when I saw the motel with the vacancy sign, I prayed hard and braked harder. I nearly turned over but it was a big driveway and I slid into it with the rear-end skidding, cut my lights and faded around the back of the building into a parking space as I heard them go by.

So next time you get chased by the cops, remember to pray hard!

A bit hectic, but not bad at all. It starts as a classic mystery of murder & blackmail in which the hero gets used and framed by the femme-fatale (he of course knows that he's being fucked) but then gradually changes into a really good thriller. Nothing really inventive or original but it does have a little twist at the end that I liked. Besides, it was also nice to read a Hollywood story in which the protagonists are not super-rich and famous but instead, they are B-movie actresses turned starlets and shady Las Vegas gangsters turned "producers". Good stuff, gritty and hard-boiled. 

This is my first Robert Colby and it has left me quite impressed. I googled the guy and it turned out he was quite prolific. His most praised novel seems to be "The Captain Must Die" and - this simply has to be destiny! - I found it on eBay with the starting bid of $0.99 with no bidders so far. It ends in ten hours so it's not entirely impossible that Mr. Colby will appear on this blog again in the near future.

4/5

Facts:

Hero:
She couldn't handle the body alone. So she called the prize goat of them all - lover boy Glenn Harley.

The bad guy(s):
B-movie actor Norman Rainey who "was the worst kind of cruel, sneaky animal" and his sleazy boss, the blackmailing mastermind Marvin Grinstead who "squeezes people. Little people and big people. He's like an evil god".

Dames
The rapid pace of narration slows down for a couple of gears when it comes to the ladies. Every noun gets several superlative adjectives and descriptions of our beauties are longer than the high-speed highway chase. There are two. First the good (?) Nancy:

Her face was heart-shaped, intense and utterly delicate. Her eyes were wide, deep brown and calmly, innocently provocative. Her mouth was a masterpiece of soft demand.
She was so slim, so narrow of waist and hip that her body was a showcase for the high curves.
She seemed built for all things tender and sensual, while her eyes and manner intriguingly denied the knowledge of love.

And not so good Mary Ann:

She was tall. Her hair was the colour of dark walnut polished with a wood-lover's hand. It fell sinuous and causal down one side of a face composed in lines of languid grace. A young face, wise but without hardness. In the misty lavender of the eyes and around the lazy spread of mouth, there was a look of beckoning towards some dream of which she had a sly and special knowledge.
Beneath a turquoise hostess gown, it was clear that she had the figure for marvellous dreams.

I was probably intriguingly denied the knowledge of Nancy's love because I found Mary Ann way cooler. She drinks her bourbon straight and is stoned all the time:

I don't tick, I soar. And I do have the habit bad. I'm incurable. I have no shame about it. I have no shame about anything I do of my own free will.

It needs to be said though that even with a couple of such knockout babes, the sex angle is ridiculously underplayed. We get an indication of this pretty soon when Glenn is "ashamed of his instant reaction" after simply being close to Nancy. One would imagine that not getting a hard-on would be something to be embarrassed about?

Soon after this "incident", it gets a bit kinky. How else would you explain that they actually do get laid immediately after they have buried the corpse in her back garden? 

His intercourse with Mary Ann is not kinky, it's just weird. One moment they are necking in some bar, but in the next one we find them in the car having this cryptic conversation:

"Sorry I can't explain now, Mary Ann. But thanks for the lift. And... everything else."
"And after all the... everything else, pet, you still don't trust me?"

"Everything else"? Huh?

Location:
L.A.

Body count:
1

Blackouts:
It opens with our hero nursing a hangover, but this doesn't really count.

Cool Blurbs:
Wild, hot and simple

And I couldn't agree more!

Title:
Cool sounding but pretty inaccurate. I cannot remember any star traps being set. But then again, maybe I've missed it in the rapid development.

Edition:
Gold Medal #538, UK Edition, 1962 

Cover
:
I was a bit surprised to see pulpcovers.com crediting the illustration to McGinnis. Doesn't really look like the master's typical style, does it? If nothing else, her legs are not long enough... But hey, it's not bad at all. Could probably benefit from a gun and/or stack of money on the bed.

Cool lines:
I needed time to hate. And time to think. And there wasn't time for either.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Better Corpses (Carroll John Daly, 1940)

I started to read Susanna Lee's "Detectives in the Shadows: A Hard-Boiled History" but just had to put it aside after the first chapter. Simply got too intrigued about the author Carroll John Daly and his badass protagonist Race Williams. 

Apparently, Daly was an agoraphobic bookworm, so out of touch with the real world that once he even got lost on his way back from Manhattan to his suburban home. Another anecdote tells that the guy got arrested and charged with carrying a concealed weapon after buying the gun and wandering around the city. You see, he just wanted to experience how it feels like to carry the real gun! 

Now that's what I call proper research! Hillarious stuff. But still, nothing really special when compared to Race Williams. According to Ms. Lee, Race's first appearance was in Black Mask's 1923 KKK special issue in the story titled "Knights of the Open Palm" in which he seriously considers joining the Klan. He finally decides against it because - now check this out! - joining would be “mighty bad” simply because if he were about to shoot someone and that someone showed himself to be a member of the Klan, because of the rules, Williams would have to drop his gun.

So, academic Detectives in the Shadows went temporarily back on the shelf and I started with Better Corpses not knowing exactly what to expect but certainly anticipating something special.

And something special I got. Delivered in spades! This thing is complete and total insanity. If Hammett is godfather to 90 percent of the authors on this blog, such accolade can safely be awarded to Mr. Daly for the remaining 10 percent. I know now where the weirdos like Mike Avallone came from. And all the destroyers, penetrators, executioners, inquisitors, liquidators, exterminators, and countless other action adventurers men. 

I have this one in digital format so the facts section below will be a bit of copy & paste extravaganza. You cannot blame me really as the whole thing is infinitely quotable. I won't even try to write a review. It would take me too long and there's no way I can do justice to this little forgotten oddity. Instead, I encourage you to go through my selection of excerpts and I'm pretty sure you'll get the idea about this one. And also have a laugh or two along the way. I certainly have had plenty of them and Daly with his Race is now firmly on my eBay saved searches list.

Outrageous and unforgettable.

5/5

Facts:

Hero:
"You're looking for trouble, eh?"
"I'm always looking for trouble. Name of Williams—Race Williams. Now what?"

"So you're Williams." He curled up his lips and shot the words through the side of it, just like a Hollywood bad man. "The wise dick, Race Williams—smartest gunman in the racket."

We can't all take sudden and violent death followed by a kidnapping as I can since it’s my business.

Good work? Of course, it was good work. But there wasn't anything especially clever about it. I know my business.

Yep, you could chuck me out of an airplane ten thousand feet in the air, and when I hit the ground I'd have a couple of rods in my fists. Would I use them? Well, that part is doubtful.[The Coolest!]

A big moment that? A hair-raising thrill? Well, maybe if you're a lad who doesn't get around. But it was nothing to me.

You think I'm not running true to form? Maybe that's true. I never pretended to run true to form. In plain words, I can't be coaxed, cajoled or pushed into anything by sentiment. But what's more I can't be scared out of anything by threats.

It's fear that makes a man's hand slow, and his fingers thumbs when he had to draw to make his kill. That's my stock-intrade. The creating of fear.

Me. I don't like twenty twos. When I put a hole in a guy I don't embarrass half a dozen doctors who try to find it. My motto is: There isn't much sense in shooting the same guy over and over. It smacks too much of crooked wrestling and the return engagements.

I'm not a sentimental fool. Anyone who knows me knows that. Oh, if it comes to a showdown, I'll die for a cause, but I'd much rather kill the cause and live for another one.[The Coolest!]

Did I hit it? Hell—you know me. I don't shoot at things I don't hit.

The bad guy(s):
As one would expect, more superlatives here:

Yep, facing a man who held a tommy gun; a tommy gun that was directed straight at my chest. And the man was Gunner Slade, the meanest, dirtiest murderer in the entire city.

Sleek black hair, soft oily skin, long, slender neatly manicured fingers lay upon the whiteness of the table cloth. I don't have to tell you. It was Armin Loring—One Man Armin—the most dangerous man in the city of New York.

Raftner is also supposed to be here in New York. He's the biggest narcotic agent in the world.

Dames
Damsel in distress is Mary Morse, cleanpussed (?) and with "damn good figure—both physically and financially" but it's all about The Flame really - Race's ex-lover, now adversary. 

Her face was hard, determined, the face of a woman who had lived. Yet, I knew that face could be young and soft and beautiful. That's right. I knew the woman. It was the Flame. Florence Drummond. The Girl with the Criminal Mind. A woman of good—a woman of evil. Take your choice. 

The Flame. Sure, the name had come from the many "moths" she had destroyed. Yep, it was written in the book of the night that to love the Flame was to die.

You won't argue with me, Race, when I say that the Flame is the most beautiful and the most dangerous woman in New York. And today she was with the most dangerous man in New York—Armin Loring. That's a combination a single man can't beat—no, not even a single man like you. Women are dangerous to men in the racket.

Location:
New York

Body count:
Before the countdown, let's first have some of the Race's profound inner-thoughts and contemplations that will help put this bloodbath into a context:

Of course, it was dangerous, but it wasn't sure death by any means—at least not for me. Shooting is like swimming. It's hard to get started, but once you're in, things go along all right.[The Coolest!]

I don't know what he saw in my eyes, but it was there. I knew it was there. I had it—felt it as any common gunman ever felt it. The urge to kill. The desire to kill. Yes, by God, the lust to kill.

Yep, I felt good. I had laid down the law, the only law Gentle Jim Corrigan, Armin Loring, and their kind knew. The law of the night. The law of the gun. The law of death by violence. That was talk these boys understood and didn't have any answers ready. No influence, political or otherwise ever fixed things for a corpse.

My ethics may be peculiar, but the only thing I could see wrong about the whole affair was that I hadn't shot Gentle Jim.

And now the body count. In order of disappearance:
  1. There was a single shot. But it wasn't from Bertie's gun. I had jerked up my right hand and damn near shot his head off.
  2. I closed a finger once and put a blue hole in the white. The killer didn't cry out, didn't shriek repentant words for his past sins. He just twisted like a cork screw
  3. Andrew Boise, accountant gets killed off-page by mobsters. Stabbed in the back.
  4. My finger closed three times. And three bullets pounded into Gunner Slade's chest. I won't say all three went into his heart. I wasn't out to make any record for fine marksmanship.
  5. The rod, a thirty-eight, dropped into my hand, turned over once, and I placed a bullet in the wide open mouth of the lad, Louie.
  6. He just looked sort of dazed and surprised as he slid slowly to the floor and sat there. There was a single hole right in the center of his forehead. I wasn't wasting lead.
  7. And I put two more slugs into the Hooded Wonder. The figure started to fall forward then didn't. Sort of changed its mind and slumped in the chair... It was not to reason why. It was but to do and die. I mean that I'd do the doing and the figure would do the dying.[The Coolest!]
  8. a heavy body; a body without a head crashed to the floor. 
  9. I was a little mad too. My suit had set me back seventy-five bucks, and I had burnt a hole in the pocket... Tony Lassario he was called and a knife was his stock in trade. He liked the silence. I grinned. He'd get plenty of it from now on.[The Coolest!]
  10. I was staggering though, going back when my finger closed. I was still going back when the hole appeared in the center of Jim’s forehead... Was he dead? He was so cold you could go ice skating on his chest.
  11. I squeezed lead once more and made a hole where his flat nose had been.
  12. I flipped back my hand and shot that face straight out of my life, and his too, for that matter.
  13. Did he fall dead on me pinning me to the floor? Not him—not a guy with forty-fours pounding into his chest. He picked himself up like an acrobat in the circus. Yes, picked himself up and went out on his back.
  14. Two shots into his stomach, another one into his chest. He was spinning like a top now, firing as he spun and I got him; got him just as clean as I ever got any man.
Which one is your favorite? I cannot decide; #9 is great but can it beat #7's "I'd do the doing and the figure would do the dying."?

And to see whether you were paying attention, let's do a quick little morbid quiz:
  1. How many are not killed by Race?
  2. How many are shot in the head?
Blackouts:
I sank then, but just before I passed out of the picture I got my speech in.
"Thank you, Lieutenant," I said. "When better corpses are made, Race Williams will make them."

Cool Blurbs:
Erle Stanley Gardner's "Incomparably hard-boiled" is spot on.

Title:
See the 'Blackouts' section above.

Edition:
eBook

Cover
:
Found several covers online. All cool, my favorite would be the one with white background in which Race looks seriously pissed off. 

Cool lines:
My answer will show you the kind of humor I was in.
"If they follow us and catch us," I told her flat, "I'll mess up that damned park so that the city will have to hire a dozen new street cleaners before morning."

"Rats," I said as they turned back. "Make a move and I'll open you up—one, two, three—and see what you had for supper."

Port is, no doubt, damn good for some people, maybe for him. But I'm no invalid, and I like my liquor to burn me.

A couple of memorable WTFs:

CONCEITED? Sure, I’m conceited. So are you. Did I like it or didn't I like it? I don't know. I couldn't think about it. I could think only of one thing—five things. Yep, I should have buried that gun full of lead in Gentle Jim's middle and not just talked about it. Action is my strength, not conversation.

Would I have killed Jim? I don't know so you don't know.[The Coolest!]

And one last that tops them all:

God! God! God! I don't know if I prayed or blasphemed, but I hoped—yes, and meant to pray; pray that I was free; pray that I was free to kill.[The Coolest!]

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Girl Running (Adam Knight, 1956)

I keep giving chances to Mr. Knight but the guy just doesn't deliver the goods.

This one is even below his usual mediocracy of simplistic plots, dull characters, and uninspired dialogue. What makes it bad instead of simply not very good, is its mean and nasty spirit. 

Women are broads, chicks, babes, and dolls. They don't speak. Instead, they ramble, rattle, babble, and bark. The promiscuous ones are automatically labeled as nymphomaniacs and public property. Homosexuals are nances and maggots. French people are - without exception - referred to as frogs and their customs are stupid. Pernod tastes like old licorice stick dripping and you can read about our hero's opinion on french women below in the 'dames' section of the facts.

Not hard-boiled. Nor gritty nor authentic. Just stupid and full of contempt. One cannot shake the feeling that the author had a grudge against everyone and everything. Many pulps featured in this blog were penned down quickly for quick rent cash. Some are politically incorrect and silly but that's okay. More often than not, such silliness even adds some charm. 

Definitely not the case here. This one was written without much joy and I certainly didn't have much fun reading it. Skip it.

1.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
"You're clever. You should be a detective."
"I am a detective."
She paused to study me. "I really believe you are. I've never met a detective, outside the little murder books. You don't look like a detective. You look like an overgrown jockey."

But not only Steve Conacher doesn't look like a detective, he sure as hell doesn't act like one. This guy's sleuthing methods are beyond laughable. He narrows down his suspects simply based on his personal dislikes of people. There is a guy who did nothing else but bought some artwork from the missing girl and because of that he immediately becomes "the most promising lead"!?

When Steve gets stuck in a dead-end (which of course happens quite often), he has this habit of breaking into the "suspect's" home looking for some (any!) clues. And when caught on one such occasion, he doesn't even try to talk his way out. Instead, he starts interrogating and intimidating the guy on the spot?? What an arrogant asshole!

And let's just briefly touch upon his ethics. Or better said, the lack of them. He has zero problems with fucking his client when the unfortunate gal is drunk and disturbed over some shitty news she just received.

Nope, he sure does not look like a detective.

Dames
Plenty of them. We have siblings Peggy & Judy, wild Velma with a body built for Italian movies. mysterious night club owner Loretta with a heart of gold and last but not least a local girl Denise Marchand. Surprisingly, they are all intriguing characters and in the absence of a strong main protagonist, they are the best parts of the book. But unsurprisingly, they are all pretty undeveloped and stay two dimensional throughout. But what else would you expect anyway from a guy with this kind of a taste in women:

Models? Their figures sold them off to me. French high fashion dolls own no seductive bumps. They eat air to preserve their matchstick slimness. They moved gracefully, chattering up a small storm but setting off no internal yen in me. Their lack of fleshy curves in the upper torso made me wonder about Dior's last publicity stunt. He could have been serious about designing fashions for these lumpless, sexless babes.

Location:
Paris. And this choice of locale poses a bit of a mystery. To be slightly mean myself, it's the only real mystery in Girl Running.

Chapters are titled using the various locations and their addresses (a nice touch, I'll admit that) and one site is even mentioned in the dedication (see below) so it's clear that there is some personal connection between the author and the city of lights and love.

Why the mystery? Because there's no real reason for the story to take place in Paris. It could be just as easily told in Conacher's native New York among the artists and bohemians of Greenwich Village. I mean, most of the people he interacts with are Americans and he gets to know everyone the very first day upon his arrival...

Body count
:
3. See the details on the back cover scan

The object of desire:
This one too is unclear. Steve is initially hired by Peggy to break up the relationship her sister Judy is having. But the unfortunate suiter is corpse #1 so he gets reassigned to finding Judy. 

Btw, there's a particularly painful paragraph on skip tracing 101 by Steve that we need to endure. But I won't bother myself with retyping it and you with reading it. If you own a copy, you can find it yourself on page 86. Spoiler - you won't be learning much...

Blackouts:
He hit me again, this time swinging low to my midsection. The gutbuckling panic of nausea swept over me. My body went dead, caught in the reflex of pain and shock. I was in a black room, yelling for breath. I was buckled and bent like a Moslem at prayer.
Then everything died for me.

And it closes with another one:

"Monsieur?" he asked.
It was Gaston.
"Vive la France," I mumbled.
Then the lights went out for me.

References:
Nothing could shake this frog's calm and self-assurance. He would play the Adolphe Menjou role in the middle of a massacre. He was slow and sincere.

It was all very tight and neat, as well staged as a Hammett incident. And twice as frightening.

Title:
I guess the running girl is Judy.

Dedicated to:
Pierre Brissaud and memories of the Place des Vosges

Edition:
Signet 1347, First Printing October 1956

Cover
:
Nice one by Paul Rader. She's not running but certainly looks french and definitely not lacking fleshy curves in the upper torso.

Cool lines:
Well, this is as snappy and witty as the dialogues go in this one:

"I hope I've helped you, Conacher."
"Like a hole in the head," I said. "But I'll be talking to you again."
"Come now, let's not make a habit of it."
"I'm loaded with bad habits."