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."

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Nightmare Town (Dashiell Hammett, 1948)

Last week marked the 60th anniversary of Hammett's death so a quick tribute post is more than appropriate. After all, the guy can easily be considered as godfather to 90% of the authors featured on this blog.

A nice collection of three novelettes and one tiny, not even four pages long story titled Albert Pastor at Home. Amusing (obviously) quick read, published in Esquire magazine in 1933. But even more amusing is the anecdote about its origin provided by Ellery Queenin in his warm introduction. Apparently, Hammett's agent had sold one story "exclusively" to two magazines and Hammett just penned this one quickly to solve the dispute! Oh, the good ol' days...

Two of the stories feature Continental Op. Scorched Face and Corkscrew were both published in 1925, and it shows because they are both heavily influenced by the western genre. Especially the latter one which is a decent take on Yojimbo Red Harvest theme of the two gangs in a town not big enough for both of them. 

Good stuff but I liked the Scorched Face better. A cool plot, snappy street-wise dialogue, loads of action, authentic in describing the machinery of a big detective agency. Plus, our Op hero has never been so doggedly determined to break the case. What spoiled it a bit for me was this totally over the top raid and shootout at the end. I prefer my detectives to be a bit subtler.

But the real prize of this collection is the titular Nightmare Town. Written in 1924, it precedes Hammett's hard-boiled bible Red Harvest for a few years. They are both similar thematically but this one is cruder and much crazier. It's like watching a 70s Italian Giallo where nothing really makes sense but you don't mind all that much because everything is so stylish and all the women are beautiful (and usually beautifully murdered). But the confusion here is created intentionally and our hero is as lost in the midst of all the WTFs as we are:

Was there never to be an end to this piling of mystery upon mystery, of violence upon violence? He had the sensation of being caught in a monstrous net – a net without beginning or end, and whose meshes were slimy with blood. Nausea – spiritual and physical – gripped him, held him impotent.

Mystery does get resolved and this resolution is what makes Nightmare Town memorable. It's so preposterous and bonkers that - after the initial amazement - it actually makes sense. At least it made sense to me. If you like the final act of Jim Thompson's The Getaway, there's no way you won't like this one. And, for the record, I fucking love The Getaway!

Speaking of closing acts, this one too finishes a bit surreal. To draw an analogy with movies once again, I'd say it reminded me of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with our surviving couple fleeing the chaos (corruption?) behind them. Again, maybe not. Maybe it's not symbolic at all and I only saw what I wanted to see. But in any case, it's brilliant stuff.

The beginning of the year is time for resolutions, so here's mine. No, I will not stop smoking. Instead, I'll complete my Hammett's Dell collection. One down, five to go! If you have any spare copies willing to trade or sell, you are welcome to drop me a message.

4/5

Facts:

Hero
2 x Continental Op
1 x Steve Threefall:

"Is that your real name?" the marshal asked.
"Of course it is," the justice snapped. "You don't think anybody'd be damn fool enough to give a name like that unless it was his, do you?"

Dames
These are all tough, masculine stories with no strong female characters. It has to be said though that the guys are not testosterone-fueled machos and gals are not dumb blond bimbos in need to be rescued. 

I'm pretty sure that Clio Landes from Corkscrew would be fun to hang out with: 

A thin girl of maybe twenty-five, with too-bright dark eyes, dark, short hair, and a sharp prettiness that was the mark of a larger settlement than this. You've seen her, or her sisters, in the larger cities, in the places that get going after the theaters let out.

Location:
See the Dell map for details.

“A tough town, is it?” Steve asked.
“Couldn’t help being! It’s only three years old – and a desert boom town draws the tough boys.”

The town – I can’t get accustomed to it. It’s so bleak. No children play in the streets. The people are different from those I’ve! Known – cruder, more brutal. Even the houses – street after street of them without curtains in the windows, without flowers. No grass in the yards, No trees.

There’s a hundred corporations in Izzard that are nothing but addresses on letterheads – but stock certificates and bonds have been sold in them from one end of these United States to the other.

The last one is indeed quite prophetic. And since this post has several movie references, I'll give you another one. Louise-Michel from Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern takes the piss out of these tax "optimizing" letterbox companies in a really smart and funny way. I like everything that these two guys have been doing and Louise-Michel ranks among the top 3 of their movies. Highly recommended!

Body count:
5 + 5 + 0 + 8 (excluding the pony) = 18

Blackouts:
There's one in Corkscrew after our hero is wounded in a duel:

I missed whatever else he said. The numbness was leaving my side, and the feeling that came in its place wasn't pleasant. Everything stirred inside me...

Title:
See 'Location' section

Edition:
Dell #379

There's no printing date information but it's pretty safe to assume it's 1950 at the earliest. In his introduction, Ellery Queen mentions that Nightmare Town appears in print for the first time since it was published in Argosy All-Story Weekly twenty-six years ago. Which, according to Wikipedia, was in 1924. 

Cover:
By Robert Stanley. Very noir-ish, it blends nicely into the nightmarish atmosphere of Nightmare Town.

Cool lines:
A sleek-haired young man whose very nice manners and clothes completely hid anything else - brains for instance - he might have had. He was very willing to help me, and he knew nothing. It took him a long time to tell me so. A nice boy.

That was nice. The crazier the people you are sleuthing act, as a rule, the nearer you are to an ending of your troubles.

For answer to that I got a lot of information about myself, my habits, my ancestors. None of it happened to be truth, but it was colorful.

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 it 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 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."