Friday, August 31, 2012

Home is the Sailor (Day Keene, 1953)

 This is quality, really good stuff. Maybe because its style belongs to some different times or maybe because writing is so good, but I just couldn’t put it down. Or maybe it is because it is just weird and totally predictable but at the same time you have no idea what next chapter will bring.

It starts conventionally with Swede Nelson just coming off the ship finishing his last job and planning to settle down on some farm in Minnesota with a girl he’s going to merry. So of course he goes to a gambling joint, gets drunk and into a fight. So far so good, it does get a bit strange when some dame saves him and his money without apparent reason (they don’t have sex). And then things go really weird and wild because in just three days our couple gets madly in love and decides to merry. And, oh yes, in the process they do kill one guy.

So we have classical set-up with widow femme fatale + sucker + corpse that need to disappear. What is really great and original is that our hero knows all that and still doesn’t fuck off out of the town. He feels he’s trapped in this vortex without way out and basically just heavily drinks rum while waiting for inevitable. 

Story takes its time and goes very slowly and sending just enough warning signs (loved the one when she squashes a bee in the car!). In the meantime few characters are introduced (local law enforcement, few shady helpers at the inn she owns) and also some dark mystery from past appears every now and then in the local newspaper. Just enough to pay attention…  

Superb writing - simple, tight and stylish without being too over the top. Great plotting and suspense with good mixture of mystery, drama and thriller and hard-boiled ending. Plus hot women and some sex, just the way we like it!



Nelson Swen aka Swede, police description: “Age 33, Build: Husky, Hair: Yellow, Eyes: Blue, Height 6’2” Weight 225, Descent: Scandinavian, Occupation: Seaman”

Miss Corliss Mason, after Swede marries her I guess we can call her Ms Corliss Neslon. Sophia Palanka, mysterious stripper wanted for a murder. Mamie, cute brunette from the Inn

Body count
4 (1 in the past, 3 during our story)

California, near San Diego + briefly in Tijuana, Mexico. 1951

Cool lines:
I sat up on the edge of the bunk and opened one eye, cautiously. The first thing I saw was vitreous china, a washbasin, and a stool without a seat. I was in four-by-seven cubicle. Three sides of the cubicle were solid steel. There were bars on the fourth side.

I was glad he had one (handkerchief). It would be something to stuff down his throat after he and I had finished our talk.

The Wounded and the Slain (David Goodis, 1955)

I was tricked into buying this one by front cover saying that author wrote Dark Passage and of course being published by one and the only Hard Case Crime. Some of their re-discovered and re-published stuff is just amazing but unfortunately this one is not one of them. And when I think a bit harder, I must admit I never really liked Dark Passage that much also...

It starts okay with a drunken guy contemplating a suicide in a bar. So you think there must be something sinister in his past, some fucked up crime that he had committed. We pretty soon realize we are in Jamaica so there’s a possibly of some espionage cover-up secret operation. And there’s a dame on the cover and you expect her to walk in any moment. Because they almost always do.

Well, nothing of above turns out to be true. He’s basically drinking himself to death because he is unhappy with his life. He’s unhappy with his life because his job sucks (no wonder; he’s a Wall Street scum) and because his wife is frigid. She’s frigid because she used to be molested as a kid but tries to push those memories deep into her subconscious. In the meantime - in her present conscious state - she’s trying to decide whether to have an affair with some guy who’s also staying at the same hotel as they are. But back to our hero – we learn that he’s also tormented because a hooker back home fell in love with him and killed herself because he didn’t return her feelings. So now he drinks. 

This finally (after app 150 pages) brings us to a crime - accidental death of a street mugger trying to rob our drunk!??! And right after we get a slim hope of some action and development, this thing really starts to fall apart. Because for some reason not very clear to me, he doesn’t report this shit to the police and so he gets blackmailed by some local asshole. And this leads to more moral dilemmas, inner struggles, family shit and so on.

Why was this published by Hard Case Crime? Fuck me if I know. I’m not saying they should publish just a hard-boiled stuff; Nobody’s Angel was original and not bad at all for example. But this is just depressing messy melodrama crap that doesn’t move anywhere. Writing is good, but very bleak and passionless which is probably intentional in order to reflect the atmosphere. There are sections totally lacking any dialogue at all and we need to struggle through this guy's (or her's) whining. Must admit I was tempted few times to just skip a paragraph or two.

Not good, not bad, just boring and definitely not my cup of tea.



James Bevan, 37. Customer's man for a Wall Street investment house, averages $275 a week.

Kingston, Jamaica

Body count:
A hoodlum gets himself killed in self defense while trying to rob our hero. So technically there is a body count of one, but somehow it doesn't really count...

Not really, not in a "pure" sense anyways. We have a frigid wife, hooker with a golden heart and overweight owner of a bar. They all play some kind of role but none very pivotal. No femme fatale here I'm afraid.

It does catch the spirit of a novel. Our hero spends most of his time drinking and contemplating his relationship with his wife. She spends her time waiting for him and contemplating having an affair. I think her facial expression is way better than his.By Glen Orbik.

Few, but they are all caused by excessive drinking.

Cool lines: /

Vanishing Ladies (Ed McBain,1957)

Was never really a big fan of McBain but I had read recently The Gutter and the Grave and really liked it. So I was hoping for some more of that and gave a try to Vanishing Ladies that I’ve found second-hand in a local bookstore for couple of Euros. Must admit that it being pretty short and not taking place in that damn 87th Precinct also helped to decide a bit.

And I wasn’t lucky this time unfortunately because it is just an average mystery not worthy of great master’s signature. It feels like he did it quickly for fun or maybe in urge to fulfill some contract or shit like that.

Plot is somehow familiar Frantic variation. There’s a couple on their vacations visiting unfamiliar location/environment and she gets abducted while everyone surrounding her confused hubby pretend she didn’t exist in the first place. In this case our unfortunate hero is tough NYC policeman which makes his confusion and lack of ability to control the situation even worse. Plot soon thickens of course. There’s a mysterious prostitute, corrupted police, dodgy brothel at the town’s outskirts, our hero gets himself help from his cop friends and also another side-kick and we naturally get some corpses.
It sounds better than it actually is. The major problem I had is that it just sounds unreal and doesn’t really hold water. Without giving away too much, let’s just say – in economic jargon - that reasons for all the committed crimes and efforts for covering them simply don’t outweigh their potential financial gains. Maybe it the whole setup would be staged in the big city and would be controlled by some almighty mafia I would find it believable.

Also didn’t like the narration. Whole story is told in a flashback as a court testimony which is just ridiculous when you think about it. Maybe McBain considered this approach inspiring or tried to add new touch to classical detective first-person telling style but it just doesn’t work. There are too many dialogues (and good ones needs to be said!) and personal observations to make it consistent and narration fluid. Plus there’s another testimony in the middle of the book from hero’s cop friend and it just adds to overall confusion. 

So it’s not bad, but also not very good. Will give good old Ed few more chances for sure.



NYC policeman on vacations Phillip Colby. For several chapters his role as a narrator is taken over by his friend cop Anthony Mitchell so I guess it has two heroes.

Sullivan’s Corner near Davistown, 4 hours of driving from NYC. Place that “did not laugh very much.” Present time, which would be late 50s

Body count
victim, her lover and her pimp’s helper. Added bonus is couple of wounded cops.

His girlfriend/fiancĂ©e Ann and hooker Lois are pivotal for the story but we never really get to meet them. There’s also hooker Blanche and her madam Stephanie.

My edition was published in 1982 by Penguin and cover is totally 80-ish. Upper third is occupied with author’s name along with the title (name having larger font than title) and smaller tagline and below is photograph of beautiful, half naked woman. But it is accurate because there is a moment in the book when he walks into his room and redheaded prostitute dressed in pink underwear is lying on his bed.

I felt like a private eye. Only private eyes get hit on the head. 

Cool lines:
“The minute that hits the floor, I dial the local cops,” I said.
The dress hit the floor, and she stepped out of it, grinning. “Ain’t no phone,” she told me.