Monday, January 28, 2013

Quarry's Ex (Max Allan Collins, 2011)

My favorite Quarry so far without a doubt. Not as violent (or dumb) as The Last Quarry and even more suspenseful and overall entertaining than Quarry in the Middle.

This time around our anti-hero hit-man of hit-men operates on the location of the B-movie shooting set. Show business related crime novels are usually good fun and since this exploitation flick is titled Hard Wheels 2 we can expect lots of weird characters. Its main star is former playmate of the year who is also a mistress of the mobster who financially backs the movie (=executive producer). This guy also fucks another member of the cast, but lovely bunny is not too concerned with that because she's fucking the director (and also gives our hero a quick blowjob). Male star is a gay (queer as a three-dollar bill) and there are some suspicious extras/bodyguards bikers and of course creative duo of producer and director.

Quarry is hired to protect the director but his assignment becomes a bit unusual when he discovers that his ex-wife is now married to this guy and that she also stars in the movie. And this is first cool trick that Collins pulls because we all know that coincidences don't just happen, at least not in pulp novels. There simply must be some sort of a connection, right?

Action is good and violence is more than decent (and funny at times). This one too - like Deadly Beloved - is driven by the great dialogues and would make a cool comic book or movie adaption. Just image a scene where Quarry gets a blowjob and afterward girl apologizes for spitting his cum and not swallowing it - "You don't think I keep my figure not watching my calories, do you?". I know, I know. It's a bit silly macho crap, but what a hell - it's still a good harmless laugh.

But here we also get a solid plot that thickens slowly and nicely. Author knows exactly what he's doing and where he is going. Quarry is no detective (hell, he doesn't even pretend to be one!) and doesn't go around interviewing people but he solves the second part of his job (finding out who has ordered the hit) very efficiently using simple process of elimination. Ending is good and surprising in more than one way. Double indemnity will be the name of the game, but I won't reveal how Quarry will manage to deal with his ex. Get the book and find out yourself, I'm sure you won't be disappointed.



Quarry, using the name Jack Reynolds

80s I think, in a small town Boot Hill, sixty miles south of Las Vegas, Nevada. But since we are used to Quarry being elusive and secretive it's not surprisingly that this place cannot be found on Google maps.

Body count
4 + another one from the past, not related to this story

His ex Joni and Miss Tiffany Goodwin.

Blackouts: /

It's okay although his ex is not really the central character. Maybe something like "Quarry goes to Movies" would be better.

Really cool and dark one. Loved those colors. Illustration is copyrighted by Gregory Manchess and it's accurate enough as there's a scene where Joni is swimming in the pool and Quarry comes over with a gun. But she's not naked; "her bikini tonight a red skimpy thing"

Cool lines:  
"Will there be nude scenes?" 
"Frequently. She was not hired because she gets mistaken for Meryl Streep"
"Jim, you and I know the number of Playmates of the year who have gone on to star in films can be counted on one hand and maybe a dick. What makes Miss Goodwin special?" 

I skipped lunch. It's not that killing some fuck freaked me out or anything, but neither did I work up an appetite.[The Coolest!]

The producer looked exhausted, maybe from having to deliver that speech about the choice of Tiffany being artistic and commercial.

He was on my left, the .38 in his right hand. and was aiming his dick with his left. Ambidextrous pisser, Jake was.  [The Coolest!]

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Continental Op (Dashiell Hammett, 1923 - 1930)

Seven short stories collection about nameless detective working for The Continental Op agency by one of the crime greatest.

Masterpieces, all of them. Superb, stunning stuff and lesson in writing. For me, this is a foundation of a crime genre and urban literature altogether. Tough guys, asphalt jungle, no messing around, no rules, no sentimentality...

In all these years it hasn't aged one bit. Second collection titled "The Big Knockover" is already waiting on my shelf.

The Tenth Clew
Murder has been committed and our favorite nameless investigator together with his cop friend O’Gar (a bullet-headed detective-sergeant who dresses like a village constable in movie) is left with a few suspects and with a bunch of clues. Nine of them to be exact and they are all as typical/predictable/standard as possible. And when you start to wonder how the hell Hammett will be able to solve this complicated mess within 40 pages story, everything unravels pretty quickly. Because our lucid PI finds these clues far too obvious and therefore the 10th clue (clew?) is basically that the rest of them were planted so he should look for the culprit in exactly the opposite way they are pointing to. Pretty smart, wouldn’t you say? 

The Golden Horseshoe
Like The Tenth Clew this one also opens with a line of a dialogue, which is a nice touch and I like it. In this particular case nameless is instructed by some lawyer to find a missing person. This guy is not a criminal so case seems to be a little boring and lawyer even apologizes for it. But we know better of course because during the briefing murder and drugs are mentioned. Right after this mandatory introduction, story and its narration switches into “extreme hard-boiled mode”.

Nameless goes into underworld of drug addicts and must use all his skills and resources provided by the agency to track down his man to the Golden Horseshoe joint in Tijuana where story gets climax with classical twist of exchanged identities. Oh yeah – mustn’t forget to mention home invasion bloodbath. As hard boiled as they come!

The House in Turk Street
Completely different comparing to the first two. Here the trouble finds our nameless hero and not the other way around. By pure chance he stumbles into apartment where some pretty unusual gang is about to divide a loot. And since there’s really no such thing as a “usual gang”, let me just quickly go through its members: there’s a Chinese mastermind, femme fatale, muscular hood without much of a brains and an elderly couple. So these characters quickly subdue Nameless and then he begins the game of the cat and mice. Because very soon everyone tries to cheat everyone else in order to get the loot and/or simply stay alive. Story is full of twists and tension is masterfully built since everything takes place in the single night so narration is basically done in “real time”. Superb stuff, someone should write a play based on this!

Another novelty is strong woman character which is of course most welcomed! Elvira is prototype of born-to-be-bad scheming femme fatale (Beautiful as the devil, and twice as dangerous!) and Hammett seems to like her a lot. For one thing, he dedicates hefty paragraph to her introductory appearance and also let her go free at the end. But Nameless promises himself that “one day…”.

The Girl with the Silver Eyes
Another missing person case - this time Nameless is hired by a lovesick poet to find his fiancĂ©e. He soon suspects foul play because it turns out that poet’s uncle is respectable millionaire and there’s also a case of forged 20 grand check. Which of course is more than enough dough for some crooks to get their hands on.

Again hard-boiled to the max with violent ending but this time it is also considerably darker. With this story being a bit longer than the rest of them, there’s enough time to develop some drama and family tragedy. Plus good guy gets killed and I also felt sympathy for Porky Grout who’s interesting character. He’s “a liar, thief, hop-head, traitor to his kind and the biggest coward on the west Coast” but he’s kind of likeable and you feel sorry for him at the end.

And let’s not forget central character – poor spoiled poet’s fiancĂ©. Without giving too much away I’ll just say that Nameless’ “one day” promise from House in Turk Street has fulfilled. 

The Whosis Kid
Once again, Nameless is not working on any specific job when he gets pulled into troubles. But this time it’s not by an accident because he smells foul play after spotting the Whosis Kid at the boxing match. He’s an old acquaintance of his back from old Boston days. “His racket used to be stick-up, gunman” and since “He could shoot and was plan crazy” he decides to follow him on his own initiative. Whosis Kid presence in Frisco indicates that some job is underway in which insurance companies – main clients of Continental Op – might be interested. Because you see “Stick-ups are always in demand”!

So this stick-up involves diamonds and pearls and another motley crew bunch of criminals. Once again assembly is international as bad guy Maurosis is french, dame Ines is Spanish and the Whosis Kid is "Boston American". Ines is the most interesting character in the story because she is kind of mix between femme fatale and damsel in distress. And she's not very likeable; first time she appears she kicks her dog sharply with the pointed toe of her slipper! Nasty bitch she is indeed! But also "Appealing, and pathetic, and anything else you like – including dangerous."

The Main’s Death
With 25 pages this one is the shortest of the collection. But it can 'afford' to be so short because it has simply marvelous opening. Nameless is briefed by the two police officers about the murder of this guy called Main so we get all the details straight away in a very condensed way. And this briefing requires multiple readings because it's simply hilarious, without a doubt one of the best parts of the whole book. Told entirely in a slang by these two police sleuths, one of them being "freckled heavyweight, as friendly as a Saint Bernard puppy, but less intelligent".

Story is cool and pretty complicated, of course. 20k $ get stolen during home robbery that went wrong and our hero is hired by this small and a bit weird antique dealer to retrieve the missing cash. But job is really just a pretext for him to find some dirt on his young cheating (?) wife. Needles to say, most of the money will be successfully retrieved (including 4 stamps worth 8 cents!) and lady's honor will remain intact. Only one corpse in this one though, but still great stuff!

Farewell Murder 
This one resembles classical detective story, Sherlock Holmes type of shit, and maybe because of that it is my least favorite of all. It's not bad by any means, but I've found others much better.

It starts in some remote village called Farewell where this asshole Kavalov lives with his daughter Miriam (Her face had Asia in it. It was pretty, passive, unintelligent) and her husband. Kavalov'd received death threats from his former associate Captain Sherry who he had fucked over some business matter and who had now returned from Cairo with his black servant Marcus. What follows is pretty standard tale of greed, betrayal, revenge, phoney alibis.



Nameless detective, 35 years, 180 pounds, a bit fat (so we can assume he's not very tall). Uses fake names Parker, Tracy or Jerry Young the bootlegger. Been with agency for 15 years. Had left Boston branch to try army life and after the war finished he had returned to the Agency payroll in Chicago. Stayed there for a couple of years, and then got transferred to San Francisco.

San Francisco,briefly Tijuana and San Diego in the second story. Farewell in the last story.

Body counts:  
1 (+guilty party hanged), 6, 3 (+bad guy going to the gallows), 4, 5, 1, 2 (+guilty party hanged + one dog) making grand total of 22 (+3 hangings + one dog).

My head filled up with funny notions. There wasn’t any room. There wasn’t any darkness. There wasn’t anything…

The entire back of my head burned with sudden fire … tiny points of light glittered in the blackness before me … grew larger … came rushing toward me ...”  

All recent Orion reprints have great illustrations on their covers, but I think this one is my favorite one.  

Cool lines:  
Gooseneck stopped shooting and tried to speak. The brown heft of the girl’s knife stuck out of his yellow throat. He couldn’t get his words past the blade.

Physically he hadn’t gone to the dogs, but he had had his taste of the gutter and seemed to like it.

I knew that he’d have been better off playing with a gallon of nitro than with this baby. She was dangerous!

Once more Tai ran true to racial form. When a Chinese shoots he keeps on until his gun is empty.

What put an edge to this conversation was that both men were talking over their guns.

He looked dead, and he had enough bullet holes in him to make death a good guess. [The Coolest!]

You're as wrong as Prohibition. [The Coolest!]

Plus some great slang:

“Vag, hell!” he snarled.“I got five hundred smacks in my kick.” (vag = vagrancy, smack = buck, kick = ?)

I don’t blame Fag. He acted according to his code. Fag was square. If I had told him that I was ribbing Burke up for a trimming, Fag would leave me alone. But when I told him I was through with a graft, had gone queer, that made me his meat. [The Coolest!]

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Confession (Domenic Stansberry, 2004)

Not too sure about this one to be honest. It's about this forensic psychologist asshole, ex-playboy now richly married, who gets framed for a murder of his mistress and tries to prove his innocence. No, wait a minute! Things may not be so simple and straight-forward. Maybe he wasn't framed after all, maybe his confession is just a deliberate mind fuck used to convince the jury (=readers). But can they (we) trust/believe him since he suffers from some amnesia causing mental sickness?!? I think not, especially because his previous wife had also died in suspicious circumstances and besides that there are some other similar and unsolved crimes mentioned.

And you too did see it coming, didn't you? It needs to be said that it's not very obvious at the beginning. But the whole thing just doesn't move anywhere and soon you realize that the whole point of this novel is (will be) the shocking (?) final twist. Don't get me wrong - it's interesting enough and not boring at all as there's a bunch of interesting characters ranging from shady private investigators and gamblers to not-so-straight district attorney and defense lawyer. But trouble is that they don't really contribute to the story and as a result suspense doesn't get sustained enough. It takes a bit too long to really take off the ground (part 3 - titled Murder - starts on page 80!) and then too soon loses its sharpness. Second half contains much too much psychological crap and narration could surely use more dialogue.

It does have few cool things I'll remember this by. It's written exceptional well and manages to create very sinister and unsettling atmosphere. Also succeeds to describe police and court procedures to a great detail so author sure did his homework in the research department! What I liked the most is that all characters are more or less unsympathetic assholes. Brave decision and somehow I don't think Mr. Stansberry will get many offers from Hollywood for adapting this one to the big screen. Our main protagonist cheats his wife (and - for fuck's sake - wears a pony tail!), his wife cheats him (bitch even tries to shoot him!) and his mistress cheats her fiancee. P.I. involved is willing to bend the rules and let's not even start about that blackmailing gambler snake. But the best character (unfortunately also most underused in my opinion) is his defense lawyer Jamie. Manipulating bitch is a living proof why people hate layers!

All in all it's an interesting read. Maybe too ambitious and at times a little pretentious, trying too to hard to be original.



Jake Danser, forensic psychologist

California Hills

Body count
3 + another one in unrelated (?) case

Elizabeth the wife, Sara the mistress, Jamie the lawyer. Latter not really a dame in the right sense of the word but mentioned never than less because she's the best character in the book.

Our hero suffers from Hayes Syndrome. Or Blackout Syndrome, as it is more commonly known. But although this is supposed to be one of the major plot vehicles he doesn't really blackout that often.

Can't argue about it this time as the whole book is written as a confession.

Sara is strangled with a necktie so no objects there. But illustration is a bit sloppy. Victim's face is not terrified enough and colors are way off. Especially its purple/orange background and blue hands holding a necktie.

Cool lines:  
I could guess what he was thinking. My background matched the FBI profile for certain kinds of criminals. So did that of a lot of other people though. President Clinton, for example. Martin Luther King.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Barbarous Coast (Ross Macdonald, 1956)

There was trouble in the air and it was the end of rough year and I was little tired. I looked at George Wall's pink, rebellious head. He was a natural-born troublemaker, dangerous to himself and probably to other people. Perhaps if I tagged along with him, I could head off the trouble he was looking for. I was a dreamer.

Archer is hired by an aging manager of a high society club to find a missing woman. He has a sidekick this time in her husband who she had left and poor guy is torn apart by grief and jealousy. So for the most part he's not very helpful and basically just makes Archer's work harder. Which of course wasn't easy to begin with. It seems that everything originates from two years old and still unsolved murder of missing Hester's best friend. So in no time at all we are drawn into Macdonald's usual dark world of deceit, blackmail, murder, mental illness, greed, shady characters of mobsters, doctors, movie people, fucked up families and so on.

Once again maestro delivers another hard-boiled masterpiece. Even darker than usual because crime seems to have some kind of psychological roots (we get to learn about psychiatric concept of "folie a deux" - madness for two). Archer is tired and disillusioned (It's a rough life", I said, "You see people at their worst") so don't expect a happy ending here. But having said that, do not expect heavy drama and complicated character study crap either. Sure, we get these, but  Barbarous Coast is still first class mystery novel.

Everything simply works. Plotting is superb and driven by standard (and proven) tools of trade (almost identical twin sisters, burned body etc). Characterizations, language and narration are in the league of their own and its astounding pace is sometimes even hard to follow. We are of course used of Archer being quick but here everything takes place in a couple of days. After furious start it gets a bit more settled when we arrive to a pivotal scene in Channel country club which takes a good portion of a novel (almost 50 pages!). Masks begin to fall and skeletons start to fall out of the closets.

My only (and very tiny) objection is the lack of Archer's detective skills. In this one he mostly follows leads revealed to him during interviews, not many physical evidences are relevant.



Lew Archer, P.I.

L.A., briefly Las Vegas

Body count: 5

Hester Campbell, ex diver. Her sister Rina. Isobel Graff, Gabrielle Torres

He gets beaten quite a lot and loses conscious three times. But he's so cool and used to it that he doesn't really make a big deal out of it: "The front end of the Sunset Limited hit the side of my head and knocked me off the rails into deep red darkness." Or just "The sky broke up in lights. Something else hit me, and the sky turned black."

Don't really get it and it's not very cool sounding either. Couple of killings do take place on the coast behind The Channel Club but that would hardly be enough to call the whole coast barbarous. So it's probably referring to L.A. in general.

Cool photo of a gun in a holster covering woman's breast. But it got nothing to do with this novel, dames are not armed here. At least not with the guns...

Cool lines:  
The dingly little room had the atmosphere of an unsuccessful dentist's waiting room. Marfeld came out of Frost's office looking as if the dentist had told him he'd have to have all his teeth pulled.

You try to put the bite on my or any friend of mine  - it's the quickest way to get a hole in the head to go with the hole in the head you already got.

Anger and anxiety wrenched at her face, but she was one of those girls who couldn't look ugly. There was a sculptured beauty built into her bones, and she held herself with a sense that her beauty would look after her.

"You a mobster or what?"
"That's a funny question."
"Yeah, sure, uproarious. You got a hand gun in your armpit, and you're not Davy Crockett."
"You shatter my illusions."[The Coolest!]

Bassett's face underwent a process of change. The end product of the process was a bright, nervous grin which resembled the rictus of a dead horse.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Killer Solo (David Hiltbrand, 2004)

Needed something trivial after that Burnett crap and this one looked simple and straightforward enough to do a trick. It's been sitting on my shelf for some time and just waiting to fill a gap like this. Because, you see, I don't particularly like these stories about some extravagant characters in uncommon surroundings and recent experiences with shit like Money Shot and The Corpse wore Pasties surely hadn't improved this.

Killer Solo takes place in the show-business, this time in the big-ass arena rock tour so we know in advance that there will be plenty of weird guys and gals around. At its center is our hero, private detective Jim McNamara, who used to work for a record companies and during this employment had managed to develop his drug abuse from being just a simple pothead to a serious coke addict. After kicking the habit he ended up being sort of Rock'n'Roll detective hired by showbiz people in order to keep their protegees straight and away from the drugs.

It begins in the classical way. Jim gets hired by insurance company to investigate accidental (yeah right!) death of a Shirley Slaughterhouse's tour crew member. Shirley is a kind of Marylin Manson shock-rocker asshole (looking like Johnny Depp with dysentery) surrounded by even bigger assholes in the likes of of his band members, his agent and his neurotic girlfriend. Other interesting characters are introduced as well: bunch of right-wing Christians lead by fanatical reverend, Jim's AA sponsor (a bit redundant in my humble opinion) and finally Paula - record company P.R. person. She appears to be the only sane person on tour's board, but she too is a bit redundant and (spoiler!) pretty much serves just for romantic aspect of a story.

So what I'm basically trying to say is that it starts really fucking promising. Plot is interesting, pace is rapid (people fly from one city to another, staying in various hotels) and I also enjoyed its style. Hiltbrand uses language rich enough and mostly cool and amusing with lots of references to popular culture without too many of those usual "witty jokes".

But then, approximately halfway through, it gradually loses its pace. Instead on crime, author starts to concentrate on our hero and its relationships with Paula, his mentor and especially with Shirley who btw turns out not to be such an asshole. I started to like the guy myself because he had tested Jim's musical knowledge by playing him Husker Du and choosing Mudhoney as their password keyword.

So everything becomes pretty boring (wtf was that episode with guitarist audition I still wonder) and predictable. There's just one more corpse until the final showdown and we are not even sure whether it's related to our case or not. At the end everything gets resolved in a thriller fashion and not at all by good detective work.

Shame, disappointing ending after the promising start.



Jim McNamara, Rock'n'Roll detective

Rock tour across the USA: Portland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, ...

Body count
3 + one security guard left in the dumpster but we cannot be sure whether he's dead or just knocked unconscious

Paula Mansmann - part matador, part pickpocket and part Geisha

Blackouts: /

Pretty stupid and not related to the storyline at all. I'm sure something better could be chosen with one of the main protagonists being named Slaughterhouse.

Not very imaginative and also not related to the story at all as nobody gets shot in their eye through the sunglasses.

Cool lines:  
She laughed and swiveled in her chair, recrossing her legs. My eyes drifted to her skirt and shifting thighs. I reflected on how automatically men respond to visual stimuli and how adept women are at choreographing that response.

[on OD'd junkie]  
He looked like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic when he starts to drift down under the icy water.[The Coolest!]

Most rockers listen to their music at punishing, Spinal Tap levels... Hearing loss is an ironic occupational hazard of the modern musician. Roll over, Beethoven.

She was leaning against the doorjamb, glaring at me like I was a prom-night pimple.[The Coolest!]

I spent one winter with the Cramps. I still get the willies thinking about it. Lux Interior was like a bargain-basement Iggy Pop. ... Forget Fellini; it was a Quentin Tarantino movie every night.