Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Long-Legged Fly (James Sallis, 1992)

James Sallis wrote a foreword to Derek Raymond's He Died with his Eyes Open which I really liked. It is good and honest text, full of (deserved) admiration for that strange novel. So that aroused a bit of curiosity in me, together with the fact that he also wrote a Chester Himes' biography which is now pretty high on my to-do list. I've heard of Sallis before of course and have seen his books in bookstores but somehow never got around to read any of his stuff. At least I wasn't sure about it until I have read The Long-Legged Fly. Now I know for sure that I haven't read him because I would surely have remembered such brilliant and unique style of writing.

And this one is also a bit strange. By form and overall feeling it is definitely hard boiled noir-ish stuff. But instead on crime(s) it concentrates entirely on its protagonist. We follow PI Lew Griffin, who specializes (I think) in missing persons cases through the various stages of his life and career spanning from years 1964 to 1970, following an episode in 1984 and finally concluding in 1990. Author doesn't really bother to explain what made our guy successful in one period or what drove him into the alcohol and gutter in another. Individual cases are not related and also not very complicated (or coherent if I'm completely honest) and again, author doesn't even seem to be interesting in plotting.

Sounds strange and disjointed, but it's anything but. At least once you realize that this is not about whodunnit at all. It's masterclass in writing, characterization, atmosphere creating, treating people (and readers) honesty and with respect. Clever and thoughtful stuff that - at least for me - was hardly a page turner. Quite opposite in fact as I've read it slowly in the evenings with a cup of tea and not on the bus on my way to work. Just wanted to enjoy it as long as possible, absorb it and let it sink under my skin.

So my only complaint about it would be that it's too short.



Lew Griffin, PI

New Orleans

Body count: 3

Vicky, the Scottish nurse and LaVerne, his lifelong friend/partner

Third part (year 1984) starts with "Light: it slammed into my eyes like fists". But we soon learn that he'd just awoken after a binge drinking (the air reeked of alcohol). Still this can be at least partly considered as unconscious as we all know how bad those hangovers can be, right?

It was pretty much WTF title until I had asked uncle Google about it and he explained it to me that this was the title of one of Yeats' poems. You can listen to it here and try to decipher it if you feel like it. But then again, maybe it's not about this poem at all because Sallis plays in a band called Three-Legged Dog so it's possible that he has some weird fixations about animal legs? Nah, just kidding;)

Nice one, always cool to see air conditioner (or elevator) as a metaphor of descent into darkness. Or am I just imagining things and it just means that it's pretty fucking hot in Lew Griffin's New Orleans?

Cool lines:  
We are not angels, Lew. Angels couldn't breathe the air down here. They'd die.[The Coolest!]

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Secret Lives of Married Women (Elissa Wald, 2013)

Two unrelated stories about the identical twin sisters. Leda, pregnant with her second child, moves into a new home with her husband and their kid. There's a guy across the street renovating some vacant house and for some reason she feels threatened by him. True, he's a bit pushy and doesn't exactly respect her privacy, but still it seemed to me that his only real sin was the fact he had recognized Leda in an old porn movie. And if I understood that shit correctly, it wasn't even hard-core porn. By this time we are well into 100+ pages and events finally start to unfold a bit. In a pretty ridiculous turn of events Leda is left to believe that her husband had killed that poor schmuck which turns her on so much that they can finally have a decent fuck.

And that's it, the end of the first part. Now we need to go back in time and endure another story, this one about her sister Lillian. She's as stereotypical tough bitch top lawyer type as they come (these writers really shouldn't watch so much TV) who gets assigned to a case involving an ex-nun/ex-professional slave in BDSM house now working (and being obsessed by) some blind clueless guy. Again nothing much really happens for the most part. Except that Lillian gets more and more horny and finally gets fucked hard in a tame SM scene where only act of sadism consist of a few belt spanks of her ass. And chapter later her court case drama ends with a pathetic twist.

In short: it's awful. Truly bad. I guess it probably tries to explore female sexuality but it falls short and immature. Far, far, far from a trashy exploitation or pulpy hard-boiled or even a simple erotic story. When I think about it, it's basically far from everything. Which is usually not a bad thing at all, but problem here is that it is just so fucking boring! Won't even go into the style as the whole thing feels like being written by the 15 years old aspiring kid encouraged by winning some literary award in a local newspaper contest.

Why did I buy this piece of shit in the first place? Well, it is published by our beloved HCC and occasionally I do read a novel written by a female author just to prove myself right about my rule about not reading them. Was also a bit intrigued by Junot Diaz (loved! his Oscar Wao btw) cover blurb but this too proved right my rule about ignoring that publishing marketing crap printed on the covers.

So this is what I get for disobeying my own rules and it serves me right I guess. But you have been warned! Just skip this and leave it to the bored housewives and 50 Shades of Gray fans. Many of them wondering around airport bookstores where this one belongs.


Added 7-Dec-2013:
Got a very passionate response (to put it mildly) to this blog post recently and after re-reading the text I admit I have pretty much deserved it. It does read mean and nasty and makes me look like a misogynistic asshole so I do feel a need to apologize and to clarify it a bit. Of course I do read books written by women; I just don’t read crime/mystery books written by women. I’m not saying they are all bad and won’t go into details about this issue so let’s just say I don’t seem to understand feminine sensibility about the dark side :) But would love to be proven wrong and will gladly check out any reading tips.

Again, sorry if this text was offending to you - it certainly wasn't my intention to insult anyone. Will definitely be more mindful about how I put together my posts in the future.


Twins Leda and Lillian

Portland and New York

Body count:
none. Or maybe a couple if we count an orgasm as a little death.

Twins and ex-nun, ex professional slave Nanette "Nan" Magdalene

Blackouts: /

Not many secrets of these two married women. They are pretty honest to their hubbies except for that Leda's porn flick and Lillian's "SM" quicky in the Hilton hotel..

Good as all Orbik's covers are - in this one he caught both of their expressions exceptionally well. But it's not too accurate because Lillian is not naked during her Hilton affair. It probably portraits the picture that Nan used for blackmailing.

Cool lines: /

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Shaft's Big Score! (Ernest Tidyman, 1972)

Begins with Shaft returning home to Brooklyn from his vacation in Jamaica which is a bit odd. I mean, he did visit Caribbeans but that was two years later in Carnival of Killers. But let's not split any hair over this, we don't really expect these pulpy novels to be very consistent, do we?

And this one is as stereotypical as they come. After 10 pages the stage is set - his good friend murdered, leaving behind a hot widow and shitload of hidden money over which two rival gangs (blacks and Italians of course) will fight merciless. And with few horny dames thrown into this pot, there's our hero in the middle of it trying to save his friend's honor and missing cash.

Cops are of course totally disinterested and incompetent. After the initial killing they simply conclude that "this was professional hit and it wasn't the last one". Which I found a bit odd because blowing up the entire building's floor in order to kill a single guy (not even a mobster!) don't seem very professional to me. But again, it's a Shaft novel and we shouldn't try to make much sense of this black and white violent world. It's better to just let it ride and enjoy such little nonsenses. My favorite one was towards the end when just two (?) bad guys are chasing our main man who's btw armed with a shotgun (!) It's obvious that these two suckers are no match for "two hundred pounds of meat and meanness" so why the hell are they chasing him and not the other way around? Maybe because "the lessons of escape were bred into his bones"? Anyways, when they do manage to "corner" him, he simply shoots both of them. The end.

Of course, it's much more about the style than content but still Mr. Tidyman could try a bit harder on the story aspect. It reads more like a screenplay (maybe that's the reason for the aforementioned chase) which can actually be the case here because IMDB doesn't state that movie is based on the book so maybe it was published after the movie came out.

Anyways, fun read with great dialogues, cool slang and some hilarious one-liners. But it does get a bit repetitive and dull towards the end as there's 100+ pages gap between the initial killings and the final bloodbath.



John Shaft, PI - Just under two hundred pounds of meat and meanness ... A man in motion, moving almost as quickly as his mind.

NYC, mostly in Queens where "It is is easier to get a cab than a cop. The cabs either have a better radio system or they are more eager to get the work"

Body count: 9

Arna, the widow. Gail Sharrett, daughter of a mobster kingpin. Rita Towne, mistress of another mobster kingpin. 

The latter one is nymphomaniac (deep pit that could never be filled, a fire that could never be cooled) who fucks Shaft and it's pretty funny fuck too because our main man just cannot satisfy her. So after the intercourse he simply concludes that "If he could have unscrewed his cock he would have given it to her to play with." He also tries to give her some advice to which she simply responds by "Don't talk. Fuck." [Fatale]

Two - on the first occasion he gets knocked off by the explosion, but second one is a more proper because he gets beaten to a pulp.

A bit silly but, on the other hand, well aligned with exploitation genre. Also inaccurate, because I have no idea what Shaft was supposed to score. Rita Towne doesn't really count and he gives recovered money back to Arna so she can establish fund for crippled kids and build a school for them. Also not sure wtf's about that exclamation mark at the end?

My paperback is first UK publication from 1972 and they didn't even bother with some original artwork for the cover. Just used movie poster with Richard Roundtree which is of course totally understandable - you can't get much better advertisement that that.

Cool lines:
"Say goodbye to your fucking empty head," Shaft told him. "I don't need it any more." [The Coolest!]

"Got another back there?" he asked the pudgy stewardess, holding up the plastic glass at her. She smiled the pudgy little smile. Did the pilots have to wind them up before each trip? Could she hold that smile as an engine fell off?"Here you are, sir. Scotch on the rocks." The voice had all the sincerity of a radio commercial for hemorrhoid ointment and the girl would probably smile all the way through a blow job. [The Coolest!]

He could see how nervous Kelly was getting. He was jumping like a broad with a sniff of coke on her clit. [The Coolest!]

Mascola didn't answer. He lay stretched out beside Cal's coffin. The right side of his head was missing. A coroner would say there had been probable brain damage before death. [The Coolest!]

"My car or yours?" Gail Sherrett asked coldly as they waited for the elevator.
"Mine's yellow," Shaft said, "with a build-in meter."