Friday, June 27, 2014

The Twisted Thing (Mickey Spillane, 1966)

After reading Goliath's Bone I'd promised myself not to go near any of those semi-finished Hammer novels patched together by Max Allan Collins and also to have at least one year break from Spillane in general. Have bought a few of his paperbacks at flea market since and was getting a bit excited and impatient as the end of my embargo was approaching.

But I picked up the wrong one. Nothing really works in this twisted thing. In short: Kidnapping case that soon turns into a murder investigation that quickly becomes a incomprehensible mess that drags itself like a fucking snail and finally reaches its climax with a pretty idiotic (but far from unexpected) twist.

Story is too complicated, it's partly hard-boiled and partly classical detective stuff (finding pajamas on the deserted road, fragment of newspaper, mysterious Mallory etc) and more than once it doesn't make much sense. No decent characterization: there's our super human Mike Hammer and everyone else is either good or bad. Surprisingly, even depictions of Spillane's trademarks of sex & violence are somehow pathetic. Violence is pretty distasteful (torture, beating people to a pulp) and way too repetitive (brain, blood, gore,... spurting, flying,... all over his coat, road,...).

Sex does deserve a separate paragraph. Check out these two descriptions:
  • Roxy took a quick breath, grabbed the negligee off the bed and held it in front of her. That split second of visioning nudity that was classic beauty made the blood pound in my ears. I shut my eyes against it. "Easy, Roxy," I said, "I can't see so don't scream and don't throw things. I didn't mean it.".
  • I followed her at a six-foot interval, enough so I could watch her legs that so obviously wanted watching.
You see where I'm getting at? I'm no psychiatrist but this kind of behavior seems to me very typical adolescent fear of adult women. You can watch them from a distance (and make remarks about them) but when you have one actually in front of you, your ass freezes. Which is okay and sort of funny when you start looking at one of the toughest motherfuckers in P.I. business in such light.

It stopped being funny when a Lesbian arrived on the scene. And I didn't miss-type: she's lesbian with a capital L (used more than once). It turns more and more into a quite nasty macho chauvinistic shit with remarks like "she only resembled a woman", "she being partially a woman", "she was only a half of dame", "if she thought it was like a man" etc. It looks like Mickey really got into this shit because our poor Myra's sexuality even plays a substantial part of the plot. 

Very disappointing. Not good, not exactly bad, but definitely boring as fuck. Which is something I'd never thought I would wrote about Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer book.

2/5 

Facts:

Hero:
Mike Hammer, PI

"I would like to know one thing, how good a detective are you?"
"I've killed a lot of men. I shoot the guts out of two of them....I hate the bastards that make society a thing to be laughed at and preyed upon. I hate them so much I can kill without the slightest compunction. The papers call me dirty names,... but I don't give a damn. When I kill I make it legal. The courts accuse me of being too quick on the trigger... I think fast, I shoot fast,.... and I'm still alive. That's how good a detective I am."

Location:
Wooster, near NYC

Body count: 5

Dames
  • Miss Malcom aka (ex) stripper Roxy - beautiful set of legs, natural curves, extraordinary pretty face
  • Alice Nichols - concert of savage beauty
  • Myra Grange (the Lesbian) - almost as tall as I was, ....figure that seemed to be well molded
  • Miss Cook aka the Legs
Blackouts:
Yes, he gets knocked out several times (not 100% positive but I think it was three times). Nothing special about any of them but there's one pretty crazy and cool description of regaining his consciousness: "I came back together like a squadron of flak-eaten bombers re-forming."  

Title: 
Poor Ruston - adult man trapped in a kid's body - is a twisted thing.

Cover
Cool and pulp-ish (damsel in distress, gun) with an unusual yellow/red color scheme. Not very accurate - even if it depicts a scene where Roxy was shot and wounded, there (1) shouldn't be gun lying around and (2) there should be some blood visible on her shoulder.

Cool lines:  
The guy knew guns. The safety was off and the rod was read to spit. [The Coolest!]

Why is that some dames can work me up into a lather so fast with so little is beyond me, but this one did. I quit playing around. I pulled my .45 and let her get a good look at it. "You open that door or I'll shoot the lock of," I said.

Monday, June 23, 2014

La Place du mort aka The Front Seat Passenger (Pascal Garnier, 1997)

This one gives the psychological thriller genre a whole new definition. Revenge story with a "hunter becomes hunted" twist where most of the action and mystery takes place in our protagonist's head. We get to know very few facts about Fabien's life but plenty of his mental state. Which is in a fucking state of disarray: he seems to have some complex originating from the childhood when his mother abandoned him and his father, he definitely has issues with sex (mental ones; he can get it up all right), has strange attitude towards children etc

Sociopath, pervert, psychopath? To be honest, I have no idea. I think he's a nice guy but really messed up. Would sane person came up with a plan to seduce his cheating dead wife's (also dead) lover's wife? And I'm not even sure Fabien wanted to do that. He just decided to stalk her and somehow they ended up in bed together.

Intriguing reading, totally unpredictable. Had no idea what our hero's intentions were in the first place and what the hell was he about to do next (that breaking into Martine's house?). Especially the first half is mind blowing with lots of stuff going on. It slows down a bit later and (with a cool twist) becomes almost normal. By normal I mean that Martine's madness is much more straightforward and for some reason easier to understand. If nothing else, her actions leave no doubt about her mental state...

So it's far from being whodunit (unless you are psychology student) but still I liked it a lot. Short and intense, unique, dark but also funny at times (see 'cool lines' below), written with a great style and easy to follow. It reminded me of Manchette's 3 to Kill. Crazy guys, these French and I'm very surprised that they are not more well-known. I couldn't find much information on Garnier online (nothing on Wikipedia about him!?) and would be grateful if anyone would share some interesting articles or interviews.

4.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
Fabien Delorme

Location:
Paris, briefly Costa de Mallorca and finally Planay in Côte-d'Or - "a little dump near Montband"

Body count: 6

Dames
Martine: "The other man's wife looked singularly uninteresting. She was a pale little blonde of about thirty, with staring blue eyes, practically no lips, and dressed in navy and beige. She looked like an over-exposed photo, with so little presence that one wondered if she was capable of casting a shadow."

Madeline: "Madeline appeared to be made of sterner stuff. She was a muscular fifty-year-old with the sharp eye of a bodyguard under a fringe of brown hair sprinkled with grey."

Blackouts
Yes, just like Shaft from my previous post, Fabien also passes out when he gets shot.

Title: 
A bit enigmatic: there's a scene in which two women take Fabien to a trip towards the location where his wife died. One of them insists that he takes a front seat (btw - he doesn't drive and hates cars) so the whole situation is a bit unsettling and menacing. So I thought the title was just another little mind-fuck that I didn't exactly understand. But then I'd realized that book's title literal translation was actually "Place of Death" (I can't speak french but Google translate did confirm that). I hate it when publishers/distributors change titles of books/movies but must admit that in this case translation sounds cooler.

Cover
Photo of a car in the night is pretty cool and noir-ish but it should be larger. I hate it when author's name and title take most of the book's cover.

Cool lines:  
They glanced briefly at Fabien and pulled the handle of a sort of drawer. Sylvie slid out of the wall.
"Is this your wife?"
"Yes and no. It's the first time I've seen her dead. I mean, the first time I've seen a dead body. It's not at all like a living person."
Forlani and the men in white coats exchanged looks of astonishment.
"It's very important, Monsieur Delorme. Do you recognize your wife?"
Of course he recognized Sylvie, but not the smile fixed on her face.
"Yes, yes, it's her."
"Do you know what her final wishes were?"
"Her final wishes?"
"Yes, whether she wanted to be buried or cremated?"
"I've no idea... I imagine like everyone she didn't want to die at all."

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Shaft Among the Jews (Ernest Tidyman, 1972)

Let's break down this using the classical three-act dramatic structure.

Setup/intro doesn't exactly start with a bang. We find John sulking and bitching about his badly decorated office (don't ask - It's a price of pussy). It's not very promising and it leans more towards some pretty corny soft-core porn instead of hard-boiled crime I had expected. But funny nevertheless, just check out these:

- "Mr. Shaft, did anyone ever tell you you are built like a brick shithouse?" 
- "Don't fondle me, darling. I don't need it. I've been wet for you since I looked at you at the party. And thought of you inside me."
- "You have a beautiful penis."

After Shaft's character (and beauty of his penis) has been established (in case we forgot how bad-ass he/it was), he gets hired by a group of Jewish diamonds dealers and we enter the second act, the "action/tension rising" one. And this one also doesn't exactly work, at least not right away. The whole assignment is a bit vague - someone has been knocking off diamonds merchants and Shaft (the schvartze) is simply supposed to "be poking around, making dishonest man nervous". His employers don't even bother to give him some decent clues, they simply drop the name of "soon-to-be the main villain" to him. Not much of explanation is given, simply that "Something's not right... something is not kosher with Morris Blacburn".

So this is not a classical mystery case and our hero cannot really start any decent investigation. At least none of the usual ones as they are described in Detectives for Dummies. So he decides to go under cover as a janitor of the building where the villain works. And at that point I must admit I really started to wonder where this mess was leading to. But we are still around pg. 50 and it gets better and better from here on. Plot thickens nicely as some old doctor type with secret formula and beautiful daughter is thrown in. Plus Israeli special agents, plus local dirty cop, plus corrupt and immoral diamond merchant together with his hit-man.

Third act - the resolution phase? Total fucking shoot-out with Sten guns (which are Uzis I think) and even rocket launcher(!) resulting in a bunch of corpses. Case fucking solved and closed. Shaft is now rich and he also scores with our damsel in distress.

And that's it basically. Reminded me a bit of the Spillane's Goliath Bone. I'm aware that it's not a fair comparison but they are both violent and sexy and dealing with some truly ridiculous plots (dreams of million alchemists are fulfilled in this one) involving Israel and world domination. But I remember reading Goliath Bone just made me sad for the old maestro while reading Shaft was pure fun.Like always is.

3.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
John Shaft, PI

Location:
New York

Body count
7 real people and 6 diamonds salesmen

Dames:
Amy Taylor-Davis - She had a Maserati gearbox built into her pelvis, five forward gears, two reverse. [Fatale]

Cara Haze, complete antipode of Amy - pure, innocent, lost, shy etc. Shaft of course fucks her too, or - better phrased - makes love to her:  "He entered her slowly, watching her face. They gazed at each other in a silent communion...."

I kind of expected that their paths would eventually cross and there's an ideal chance for that when Shaft needs to hide Cara to some safe place. He takes her to his apartment but in my opinion that was pretty stupid move since bad guys knew exactly where he lived. Wouldn't it be wiser to take her to his lover's place? True, he wouldn't be able to fuck her but at least she would be safe.

After the strong and impressive introduction, Amy gradually simply disappears. Which is a shame, I liked her. And there's another dame with a great potential briefly mentioned but left forgotten immediately after. Cherry Culp, as you can tell from the hilarious description below, would be a great addition to the colorful cast of characters:

She seldom saw her husband, of course, and he demonstrated his gratitude for that deliverance with continuing, unquestioning financial support and a recognition of the fact that she was utterly worthless as a human apart from her efforts at keeping the economy strong as a continuous circulator of currency. [Fatale]

Blackouts
Yep, even Shaft is not tough enough to take two bullets and not to pass out.

Title: 
Great title, a bit politically incorrect if you ask me but definitely way cooler that "Shaft in Little Odessa" or "Shaft  Among Diamonds" or some shit like that.

Cover
Cool illustration of Shaft being surrounded by babes and bad guys. Very 70s

Cool lines:  
Shaft was still playing the outraged innocent. He sounded about as sincere as a cab driver giving thanks for a bent dime.[The Coolest!]


When you bought Shaft, you bought his anger.[The Coolest!]


If he had a choice at that moment between getting laid and standing there in the shower with a drink in his hand, he'd go for the shower. A piece of ass is a piece of ass, but a hot shower is also a place think, drink, urinate, pick your nose unobserved, and wash away the smell of your prejudices.

Israel. Nobody came from Israel. That was where everybody went for a nineteen-day tour or to live and kick an occasional Ay-rab in the ass.

"Why don't you get a haircut?" Shaft snarled. "You look like a broad from the Bronx who used to give the best head in the Village."
"Prick," Berkowitz said.
"That's what she wanted. But I don't need a blow job now, so get the fuck out of here."