Sunday, October 27, 2013

The First Quarry (Max Allan Collins, 2008)

Max Allan Collins takes us back to the early 70s on a ride with his anti-hero's debut assignment. Quarry is dispatched to some small college town in Iowa where he's supposed to "take out" some asshole professor/writer working on a "non-fiction" book on Chicago's mobster. Two women are involved and gang war over the drug turf is taking place so we know there will be plenty of sex and violence.

And since we are reading Quarry book, we know it will be fun.

It moves forward pretty rapidly, at times maybe even too fast as character don't have time to fully evolve and breathe. Collins either drops them altogether (cute blonde at the very beginning) or Quarry simply kills them. There's this likable private detective Charlie who brings few possibilities of mystery entanglement but he too almost immediately ends up with additional hole in his head and storytelling goes back to linear mode. Which is cool, Quarry's novel are by their definition character driven, sometimes (like in this one) it's just too bad that the only character that drives them is Quarry and others are somehow neglected.

But, again, it's fun. Especially after reading initial few chapters and getting into the mood and into our protagonist's sense of humor. He's simply cool guy and I'll give his first adventure an extra half point on account how effectively he managed to finish this whole affair without "leaving any loose ends". Nice work indeed.

3.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
Quarry

Location:
Iowa City

Body count:8

Dames
Dorothy "Dorrie" Byron, asshole professor's abandoned wife and Annette Girard, artistic and slightly confused daughter of the mobster Lou Girardelli. Quarry fucks them both. Twice.

Blackouts: /

Title: 
Quarry's first assignment.

Cover:
Excellent one, done by Ken Laager. Liked its dark and sexy feel and it's also very accurate - it depicts a scene from the page 118. One small remark though - Quarry seems to be a bit lost in thoughts and uninterested but in the book he's actually horny as hell.

Cool lines:  
"I'm nothing to you but your 'girl' - I'm not a serious writer doing serious work!"
I wondered if a serious writer would use the word 'serious' twice in the same sentence.

She said, "I'm not in love with Professor Byron or anything. We're just good friends."
I could use a good friend who looked like her who would blow me.

[Before killing a guy]  He'd gone to the store. He had to eat, didn't he? Well, actually, he didn't, but he didn't know that.

"Do I look like I was born the fuck yesterday?"
For all the gunk on his hair, he might have been born the fuck a few seconds ago.[The Coolest!]

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pop. 1280 (Jim Thompson, 1964)

Straightforward story about a local sheriff of some godforsaken Texas hillbilly county. A simple-minded dude with simple problems concerning women, trying hard to be re-elected since being a local law enforcer is about the only thing in the world he feels he knows how to handle. See "cool lines" below and you'll get the picture.

Of course it's not as simple as that. Although incredibly entertaining and easy to read and follow, Pop. 1280 is anything but a simple read. Story alone is pretty complex with a bunch of characters and events that amount to a fair decrease of the initial population at the end. Plotting is superb and tension build-up together with the final twist are good enough alone for the highest grade this total masterpiece gets from me.

But the real story and detective challenge (for the reader) takes place inside the Nick's head. Who the hell is this guy? At the beginning he's just a simplistic, clueless and almost retarded asshole driven by the desire to be re-elected. With first bodies coming up we soon realize that he's not exactly harmless but still he's almost cute and in a way we are still sympathetic with him. At least I was. Maybe because of his hilariously cunning scheming or his incredible (ab)use of grammar or simply his questionable luck with women. But there's just so much that man can take and it becomes more and more clear that our main man is not exactly right in his head.

And this, for me, is novel's main appeal - was he crazy all along or did something finally push him over the edge? We will get the answer and it will be a creepy one. Also unexpected one, I couldn't see it coming at all.

Pottsville definitely deserves a few words.Cesspool of humanity it is, without a single likeable character around. Liars, cheaters, wife beaters, misogynists, people fucking their relatives (kids not excluded), nymphomaniacs, mentally retarded, simply mean, greedy and ignorant hillbillies (I caught him reading a book!) and most of them total racists. Racism is one of the prevailing themes and Thompson uses it as a tool to emphasize storytelling, sometimes even its humorous parts - I giggled at the scene when Nick spreads around the rumor that his election competitor Sam has "raped a little two year old nigger baby" but stuff like "niggers shouldn't be counted as a regular population since they have no souls" just makes you speechless and leaves you sad. No wonder Nick went a bit crazy in such environment.

Cool thing - and another touch of maestro - is that Pottsville doesn't really feel like some big ass metaphor for America's little towns. At least not at the beginning that is. I had the impression that Thompson simply had fun inventing these oddballs and enjoyed playing with them. But the more story progresses and more darker it gets, it becomes clearer that author is a pessimist whose only suggestion about how to get out of this state of decay (=Pottsville) is to become as insane (religious?) as other people living there. To put into Nick's words: "There can't be no personal hell because there ain't no personal sins. They are all public."

Unforgettable stuff, should be made mandatory reading in primary schools.

5/5

Facts:

Hero
Sheriff Nick Corey

Location:
Pottsville, 47th largest county of the state (of Texas I assume)

Body count: 6

Dames
His mean and bitchy wife Myra plus mistresses Rose and Amy

Blackouts: /

Title: 
Pottsville has a population of 1280. But it could also be titled Pop. 1274...

Cover
Orion edition's cover is hardly worth any commentary. So I'm also including some older cover that I find interesting because it tries to sell this dark masterpiece as a light western comedy. Although, when looking at the guy's facial expression long enough, you'll see a glimpse of psychotic tendencies in his eyes.

Cool lines:  
"Me?" I said. "I do my job all the time."
"You! You stupid silly spineless fool! You don't do anything!"
"Well, that's my job," I said. "Not doing nothing. I mean. That's why people elect me."

What I loved was myself, and I was willing to do anything I god-danged had to to go on lying and cheating and drinking whiskey and screwing women and going to church on Sunday with all the other respectable people.[The Coolest!]


"Can't very well run a town without one, right, Buck?"
"Right! Why if they wasn't any whores, the decent ladies wouldn't be safe on the streets."
"Kee-reck!"  Ken nodded. "Fellas would get all full of piss an' high spirits and take right off after 'em."

"The next time they even look like they're goin' to sass you, you just kick 'em in the balls as hard as you can."
"Huh?" I said. "But - but don't it hurt awful bad?"
"Pshaw, 'course it don't hurt. Not if you're wearin' a good pair o' boots without no holes in 'em."
"That's right," Buck said. "You just be sure you ain't got any toes stickin' out and it won't hurt you a-tall."

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Lemons never Lie (Donald E. Westlake aka Richard Stark, 1971)

I'm not too keen on crime books in which heroes are ordinary people somehow sucked into the sinister underworld. True, occasionally this formula can function (can't remember a good example from the top of my head though) but Lemons Never Lie is definitely not one of those instances.

Alan Grofield is a stage actor that runs summer theater (whatever the hell that is?) in some rural godforsaken place. This requires money and he finances this whole operation by occasional theft. Because, you see, he's also a professional thief.

Could decent novel would ever be possible to come out of such a moronic premise? I don't think so, not even when written by one of the genre's greatest craftsmen.
After initial setup, it turns into cat-and-mouse kind of chase around USA involving Grofield and some insane psychopathic asshole Myers. It is written very simplistic and fast paced with a decent body count piling, so it is pretty easy read. Quite fluent too although on few occasions the whole thing becomes simply laughable. I think I shall remember it by one of the most original torturing scenes - our main man Grofield strips down some poor schmuck and starts opening the front door. Since outside is so cold, guy gets terrified of catching pneumonia and immediately spills everything out to his ruthless torturer. I kid you not, read it yourself (page 193) if you don't believe me.

Not good, not bad. Something you take on a plane and forget about when you arrive to your destination and pick up the next book.

2.5/5
Facts:

Hero: 
A member of a increasingly disappearing breed of professionals, Alan Grofield was an actor who limited himself to live performances before live audiences.

Location
Las Vegas, Mead Grove, Indiana, St. Louis, Monequois, New York

Body count: 6

Dames
None really. There's his understanding and artistic (also actress) wife but she hardly qualifies for a dame.

Blackouts
Yes, two of them. And since our hero is hardly some bad ass criminal (although he is professional) we can forgive him for the both of them. None is described particularly vivid - In the first one "Grofield turned around and faced the wall. He knew what was coming, and hunched his head down into his neck, trying to make his skull soft and resilient. It didn't do any good. The lights went out very painfully." In the second one he was simply hit in the face by two-by-four and was subsequently out for mere 5 minutes.

Title: 
One of those intriguing and funny wtf titles but it has really simple explanation. Right at the beginning Grofield scores jackpot (three lemons) on the slot machine and gets a little annoyed about it because he feels that he had used all his luck.

Cover:
Pretty cool, although girl should be more in front I think. But very accurate, it depicts the corpse #3 and the fact that Grofield burns down the house in order to destroy all the evidence (I think) since he's such a professional. Credited to a guy R.B. Farrell but google search on him didn't come back with nothing useful.

Cool lines:  
Tired and aging mixed-race jazz quintet tried to figure out how to make transition to rock. So far, all they were sure of was the volume level; you couldn't hear yourself think. Looking at the conversations going on up and down the bar, and in the booths behind him, Grofield decided the place must be full of lip readers.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

He Died with His Eyes Open (Derek Raymond, 1984)

This one is really unusual, almost weird. Not too surprising since I picked it up because I remembered the name of Derek Raymond was mentioned by Mark E. Smith in his hilarious autobiography Renegade. So welcome to the wonderful and frightening world of modern British noir!

Begins as yet another police procedural with badly beaten body found in some dark alley of the dodgy part of London. Inspector in charge of the case finds victim's letters and some recorded tapes (ah, good old days!) and starts searching for the bad guys using these recordings.

Kind of. Our nameless sergeant works alone, at his own pace using some pretty unconventional methods. His sense of justice and punishment is also a bit strange so his character resembles more to a classical PI than policeman. So much for the police procedural clich├ęs - which is btw just fine with me.

Letters and recordings also prove not to be much of an evidence. In fact they serve just as a vehicle for telling parallel story about our unfortunate victim. Which is kind of cool since his background is really interested. In fact it is so fascinating that even our nameless detective becomes more interested into the guy's story than the actual crime and begins to form some mental link with him. I think.

This goes on for the better half of the novel and then it gradually gets more and more bizarre. Our hero tracks down and immediately afterwards starts fucking victim's wife. He even moves with her into her apartment because (I guess) at this point he's already connected mentally with her dead ex so this means he can connect to her physically. Not sure again, but they also fall in love. Or something. In any case, he seems to have figured the whole thing (crime and fucking/loving part) out so not much of investigation will follow. There will be shocking and bizarre (not only metaphorically) ending but it is not really unexpected or surprising one. Simply because there's no way that this strange novel could finish in the classical whodunnit style.

So we have two or three stories entwined but the whole thing is anything but mess. Very concise, seems to me that Derek Raymond knew exactly what he was trying to tell and how to convey all those stories. Great storytelling with effortless shifts from hard-boiled violent stuff to more mellow psychological drama. Bleak and depressing at times (Staniland's journey and fate) but masterfully written. Not trying to be clever with tough one-liners but still with fair amount of sharp black humor and slang. Not really character nor action driven but still tense and compelling. It loses some of its charge towards the end, but it is still immensely enjoyable.

Unique and memorable. I think it got under my skin a bit and I will definitely check out other Raymond titles.

4/5

Facts:

Hero
Nameless sergeant. Working for the Unexplained Deaths department - A14 branch, "the most unpopular one"

Location:
London

Body count: 2

Dames:
Barbara/Babsie - Frigid iceberg with gross psychic problems and the mind of a petty criminal.

Blackouts: /

Title: 
Probably refers to the poor Charles but I honestly cannot remember whether his body was found with its eyes actually opened. Doesn't really matter, it's cool sounding title anyway.

Cover
Nice and intriguing one with a great artwork. Also relevant - our hero is Nameless (faceless), he smokes (see cool lines below) and tape recorder plays an important role in the novel.

Cool lines:  
I lit a Palace filter. It tasted revolting; I only smoke them because I hope they might help me give it up.

"Good evening to you,"  he boomed heartily. "My wife tells me you've come about my brother Charles. What has he been up to this time?"
"Well, he's gone and died," I replied.

Nice and gentle way to break the bad news but needs to be said it's still not as nearly as cool as Hoke did it in New Hope for the Dead.

"Well, what about him?"
"Well, he's dead."
"As if I fucking cared," he said. "Who are you, you cunt?"
"I'm a police officer," I said. "And watch your tongue. One more slip like that with it, and I'll tear it out of your head."[The Coolest!]


"Look," he said furiously, when the penny had dropped, "do you want me to come out an round an give you some manners right in the mush?"
"Yes, why not" I said. "If you've got a spare face at home."

"Well, the vehicle wasn't marked." [traffic warden]
"There's a silly reason for that," I said, taking the ticket. It's because a lot of these modern villains can read.