Thursday, June 28, 2012

False Negative (Joseph Koenig, 2012)

I often bitch about how some books are not “crime” enough and with this one I certainly got big dosage of it! We follow this guy Adam Jordan who is crime newspaperman and fucks up one job big time, but also big time funny and even educational: “Professor Einstein could learn a thing or two from Adam Jordan. It was not impossible to be in two places at the same time, if no one checked.”  Anyways, he then becomes writer because “we pay better since good crime writers are harder to find than inventive killers.” In one of the numerous sub-plots his editor gets killed so eventually he takes over managing of Real Detective magazine. So, you see, everything is related to crime one way or another so I really cannot complain about it on this occasion.

There is of course one main plot although we are never sure if others are connected. It starts with Jordan finding beautiful dead girl on the beach. At first he’s not too interested but later he needs some story for his editor and starts digging into the case. Needles to say that deeper he digs more dirt comes out in the open. And more corpses of (mostly) beautiful women. 

Nothing and nobody is simply black and white here. Everything is gray and in pretty fucking dark shades of gray I might add. That includes our hero who is likeable but nevertheless opportunistic bastard who lives off other people’s misfortunes. We have sleazy photographer, beauty pageant queens with price tags all over them, incredibly cynical (and hysterically funny) editor, hookers, pimps, mobsters etc. Even the only good person freely admits she'll do what it takes to meet the right people. There’s a nice touch at the end when murderer stoically replies to Jordan that he’s no better or worse than him as they are all just predators and vultures. I’m sure Raymond Chandler was smiling approvingly when reading this in heaven.

But as brilliant as story is and colorful as characters are, for me sheer genius of this masterpiece lies in its style. I was amazed to learn that it was published only recently for the first time because language used and overall atmosphere is totally good-old hard boiled times. City of course is as an asphalt jungle, cops are dirty, there’s still racial segregation and there's lots of jazz. Our hero is a fan and he frequently visits gigs of Charlie Parker, Billie Holliday, Mingus and likes. Louis Armstrong himself even appears in one of the sub-plots! 

This guy Koenig must be some kind of genius to be able to picture such a vivid picture of the period before he was even born. I’m definitely putting all of his stuff on the top of my to-do list.

5/5

Facts:

Hero
Adam Jordan, ex-reporter turned pulp writer and editor.

Location
1953, Atlantic City for the most time, shortly in New York

Body count
7 most likely 8, although 2 are not directly related to the main story

Dames
next Miss America and black (kind of) hooker

Cover
good and pretty accurate. Photographer is important character of the story and he does shoot girls in nude. I like her facial expression because she’s a bit frightened and not lustful of flirtatious as she’s supposed to. Illustrated by Max Phillips who is regular artist of Hard Case Crime books and I think this one together maybe with Ed McBain’s The Gutter and the Grave is his best.

Cool lines:
Don’t bother about the suspect, if she’s the dog you say she is. Describe her as being unconventionally beautiful. 

Like most mid-size east coast dailies the Press gave little ink to Negroes. Sure, Negro criminals preying on whites made for good copy. But if you played out the disappearance of a Negro girl, you would be expected to cover her friends’ weddings, and the birth of their children, and to make space on the obituary page, too. The readers did not want integration with their morning coffee. 


She felt tears welling, but wouldn’t let them come. They were a part of herself she was able to keep him from having.

    Tuesday, June 26, 2012

    The Last Quarry (Max Allan Collins, 2006)

    To be honest, this is just a junk. Well written but junk nevertheless. In afterword Collins mentions he wrote it as a kind of favor to Hard Case Crime‘s editor Charles Ardai after he had promised him Robert McGinnis for a cover illustration. But I think he simply had nothing to do so out of boredom decided to bring alive his most famous hero.

    It does starts promising. We get to refresh our knowledge of Quarry’s story and his current situation. Which is not very exiting one because he is employed as keeper of some holiday resort. And since it’s off season time, inn is empty and the only thing Quarry needs to fight is insomnia. That quickly changes when he accidentally gets involved into kidnapping of some rich brat. And so by the end of the fifth chapter we have two dead kidnappers and one free rich brat. And Quarry gets a contract by her ass-hole rich father.

    So far so good, stage is prepared for some real action now. But unfortunately we need to wait quite a while to get some. Because instead of shifting into higher gear everything just falls flat. Story doesn’t move anywhere, no new characters or sub-plots are introduced and we must basically endure the process of Quarry’s falling (you know – in romantic kind of way) for his target. It’s pathetic and almost embarrassing at times. Looks like Mr. Collins had similar opinion so he just finished everything quickly with some ridiculous shoot-out massacre and “surprising” twist.

    Writing is poor, probably intentionally to give it more pulpy feeling. Its strong point are witty dialogues, but there are just too many unnecessary “fucks” and moronic machismo-isms about women (plus some mandatory gay “jokes”), sex and violence. Latter is especially cartoonish: he beats some bad ass marine guy like he’s a fucking kid and in already mentioned shoot-out bad guys are disposed as easily as clay pigeons:
    1. the guy took it in his head
    2. with the headstone as a cover, I took out the two closest ones
    3. I took the nearest to me when he slipped his head out to take aim
    4. He had almost made it to cover when my shot caught him in the side of the head
    5. He, too, took a bullet in the head and fell backward
     See what I mean? No wonder why they were such great pals with Spillane.

    In all fairness it’s not that bad; it’s just that I expected more after reading Quarry in the Middle. It’s probably perfect reading when you’re on the plane. So here’s a good tip for your next travel, it will make waiting in airport queues easier and you won’t pay much attention to turbulence.

    2/5

    Facts:

    Hero
    Hitman Quarry. But for the purposes of this narrative, however, we’ll say my real name is Jack Keller.

    Location
    Hard to tell. Again Quarry is pretty secretive in order to keep his identity hidden. But he does drop us a hint: “Sylvan Lake, somewhere in Minnesota, only it’s not called Sylvan Lake and maybe it’s not Minnesota, either.” So go figure! Action then moves to some small city named Homewood which I did manage to locate on the Google maps – it’s 30 miles south of Chicago. 

    And the year is most probably 2005 because “Janet was still advertising Kerry/Edwards 2004” with her car’s bumper stickers.

    Body count
    2………no, nothing …………still nothing (2 fucks though)………… one more fuck ………… 1+1….. 6+1 = grand total of 11 (+ 3 fucks)

    Dames
    Janet the librarian and her sister Julie

    Cover
    Pretty accurate. On two occasions he peeps at the girl through the window but he wears a beard (shaved off later, so maybe that confused the artist). Second time he doesn't have a gun, but a girl actually wears “pinkish excuse for a bra”. Illustrated by famous Robert McGinnis but this one I think was also made quickly and without much paying attention to the details. Let’s say it’s okay but not great.

    Cool lines:
    He answered with another question: “Do you have any reservations about taking out a woman?”
    “I take women out all the time.”
    “Not the way I mean.”
    I smiled just a little. “Are you sure?”

    “Julie has a potential. She has fire. Spirit. She’s just … going through a phase.”
    I nodded toward the hole in the ground. “So is your other daughter – it’s called a decomposition.

    The Burned Woman (Edward Mathis, 1989)


    This one is as full of clich├ęs as they come:
    - We have this ex-policeman turned PI
    - He drinks too much
    - His best friend is a policeman who also used to be his mentor
    - Big ass politician/business man is involved
    - Big ass rock star is involved
    - We have hooker with a golden heart
    - And deviant sex hinting incest
     It starts decently by disappearance of our hero’s wife in strange circumstances that include highway accident in which young woman is burned to death. So he goes into overdrive and starts investigation. And since he earns his living by being a fuckin’ PI one would expect this investigation to be efficient and quick one resulting in recovery of his better half. Especially because he has support and resources of local police department behind him. 

    Mistake! It drags on and on and is basically reduced to interviewing people connected to the victim although there’s no clear connection between the two events. So after three weeks (!?!!) he basically gives up and starts drinking even heavier and even fucking some young prostitute. What an asshole, he didn’t need much time to forget his beloved one! 

    But then suddenly, out of the blue, he gets an idea or clue he missed and cracks the case. Happy end and they lived happily for ever after.

    I guess this book could be okay if everything would move at the quicker pace and if things would be wrapped up after few days. But all that drama is just unnecessary, especially because no significant leads are discovered and no events take place that are related to the case. FBI seems to come in just to show (a) how incompetent but still tuff they are and (b) to have one of the agents fuck that poor hooker to show (I guess) how vulnerable and generally fucked up she is. Total ballast. Also language could be a bit less monotone and dialogues sharper.

    All in all, routine and forgettable stuff.

    2/5

    Facts:

    Hero
    Dan Roman, Vietnam vet, ex-cop now PI

    Location
    around Fort Worth near Dallas, Texas. Present time.

    Body count:  3

    Dames
    Susie, kidnapped wife. Charlotte “Charley” Wilkins, the victim. Alicia, her roommate and also a prostitute.

    Cover
    pretty cool and matching the title because there's an illustration of woman’s face and upper body coming out of the fire. A bit arty and a bit comic books style. There’s no info about the author.

    Cool lines:
    “He’s pretty big star,” she said, as if that explained everything. “So’s the sun, but I don’t want it crashing into my house at three o’clock in the morning.”

    He saw it a fraction of a second before I pulled the trigger: he had time to grunt again, widen his eyes, maybe time to know he was going to die.

    Monday, June 11, 2012

    Nobody’s Angel (Jack Clark, 1996)


    I was little misled by the cover which said author was Shamus Award finalist. Jack Clarke of course was nominee but not for this novel. And it would be highly unlikely to be nominated for anything related to the crime for this book. It’s well written and has unusual concept but it’s just not a crime novel. I was puzzled about why Hard Case published this in the first place and found answer on their website:

    Nobody’s Angel, the author's first novel, was originally self-published in an edition of only 500 copies that the author sold for five dollars apiece to passengers in the Chicago taxi he drove for a living. Hard Case Crime is proud to give the book its first professional publication.

    So I guess his break-through novel titled Westerfield’s Chain must had impressed editors so much they decided to publish this one. Which is intriguing and I’m putting it on my to-do list.

    But anyway, if this is not a crime or mystery or thriller or espionage stuff etc, then what a hell is it? It’s basically about taxi driver Edwin Miles whose fellow taxi driver friend gets killed so Eddie spends next 200+ pages driving around Chicago describing city’s (and his own) sad history and layout of its streets and (of course) picking up passengers. At first it is somehow interesting and even amusing and I quite enjoyed it but then approximately halfway through I realized that this was all I was going to get. Because this guy has no system or technique or methodology and it became clear that crime will be solved by him eventually (after 25 fares!) picking up the killer.

    So it’s not very good but at the same time it’s not bad at all. It's not too boring because there is another violent crime (so we have two serial killers!), some interesting characters are introduced (cops and other taxi drivers and maybe his fuck buddy, although stuff about his ex-wife and kid is totally redundant) and few of the adventures with his colorful passengers are also quite good. 

    Well worth mentioning are chapters openings which cite official regulations from Chicago’s department for public vehicle operations. They give you a hint about what will follow and are (of course) written in this crazy bureaucratic language and some of them are hilarious. Like “…Wherever used in these rules, the use of the masculine gender includes the feminine gender; the singular includes the plural and the plural the singular.” 

    It’s interesting and original stuff, obviously written from the experience and also from the heart and I would recommend it to anyone who lives in Chicago or plans to visit it. To me, those endless descriptions of areas and streets listings were just too repetitive and simply annoying towards the end. Felt like reading fucking Lonely Planet.

    2.5/5

    Facts:

    Hero
    Eddie Miles, taxi driver

    Location
    Chicago

    Body count: 1
    Taxi fares count: 26

    Dames
    not really, maybe a victim hooker. Because he’s not her angel, he’s nobody’s angel.  

    Cool lines:
    “You know what a taxi rolling through the ghetto is?” I asked. “What’s that?” “An ATM on wheels.”

    I looked back in the mirror. They were both watching me, phony smiles planted on their faces. She was a very old twenty-five. They were both hard looking, cheap white trash.

    “It’s okay,” I said. “I’ve got some money in the bank.” “Christ,” he said. “Never tell a lawyer that.”