Monday, July 28, 2014

Daddy Cool (Donald Goines, 1974)

Was a bit disappointed with this one to be honest. Expected our hit-man hero to be a cool Shaft-like bad-ass but he's more like an aging guy having lots of problems with his family while running his pool-hall. Not very cool either - he loses his coolness when returning home from one of his "jobs" and finds his 16 year-old spoiled daughter Janet making out in a car with a young and "thoroughly unlikable" pimp Ronald. Daddy Cool gets mad, slaps her and as a result she's  so pissed at him that she packs her shit and runs away with the unlikable one. Soon she ends up whoring on the streets of Motor City and daddy is not too happy about it.

But he's not too upset about it either because two weeks later he's still not able to locate her. Is he simply not street wise anymore? Hard to say, but one thing is certain. Instead of keep looking for her, he takes another job in LA because it pays so well (25 grand). Greedy bastard! And an asshole too. When he finally gets back, he releases his frustrations and rage on his two step-sons who were given the ultimatum to either find her or move out of his house. I'm not saying that two of them are not good-for-nothing assholes but still I think he was a bit unfair to them.

It gets better and more dynamic towards the end with somehow Shakespearean tragic, bloody family drama climax.

Quick and entertaining read but I missed any kind of a style in it. Not much of the ghetto noir feeling I had expected, plain dialogues lacking street slang, sloppy and pretty unbelievable story, hardly any characterization (especially Janet is done poorly) and also a bit too sexploitative (five pages long sex scene). The whole thing just feels like it was put together hastily which - after reading Goines' biography - can very well be the case. Apparently he wrote mainly to support his heroin addiction and published 9 books in 1974 alone. Amazing, big fucking respect!

3/5

Facts:

Hero:
Larry Jackson aka Daddy Cool, "one of the deadliest killers the earth had ever spawned"

Location:
Detroit mostly, except for the two jobs that Daddy Cool takes in Michigan and LA

Body count7 + one German police dog

Dames
Daddy Cool's daughter Janet. Innocent 16 year old girl when we first meet her, but two weeks later she celebrates her 17th birthday street-walking and "doing tricks"

Blackouts
None. Which is strange because he's savagely beaten when gang of six mugs him. 

Title: See 'hero'
CoverStandard stuff.

Cool lines:  
Pimping was his game, and no good pimp would allow some bitch's daddy to blow his game.[The Coolest!]


Yes, there would be hell to pay, and some crying. But casket buying would be the order of the day in the near future.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Moth (James Sallis, 1993)

Not sure why but I expected the second Lew Griffin book would be more classically structured than the first one. Don't get me wrong: I loved The Long-Legged Fly and all I'm saying is that strictly speaking it isn't exactly crime/mystery novel; it's more about putting Lew Griffin and his ugly yet poetic New Orleans on the map of crime novels.Was also hoping that LaVerne would be somehow involved in the next one. I usually don't fall for the "hooker with a heart of gold" cliche but she was such a great character.

Nope. Moth simply continues where Fly had ended. Chronologically as well as stylishly. Pretty fragmented and wild storyline that frequently (especially at the beginning) jumps back and forth in time and digresses from the main plot to Griffin's private life. And since the main plot (can we even call it a "case"?) involves private matter of finding LaVern's junkie daughter, these flashbacks and episodes aren't distracting at all and complement the main story nicely. And btw - my heroine died sometime between Fly and Moth. Damn, this Guinness is to her memory.

Great and interesting read, masterfully written. Maybe a bit repetitive at times (I could do without few book references for sure) and definitely too fucking depressing. I have nothing whatsoever against the realism (everyone should read Pedro Juan Gutiérrez btw!) but stuff like guy fucking his one year-old daughter and afterwards slamming her head against the wall "so she wouldn't tell"... is a bit too much. Even for me.

So I need some time for this one to sink in and then I'm definitely resuming with following Lew Griffin's fascinating life story.

4.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
Lew Griffin, (ex? part-time?) detective, writer and college professor these days

"He told me if he sent you out to the corner for a paper, chances would be about fifty-fifty of his actually getting one, but that he'd trust you with his life. One of your stranger character references."

Location
New Orleans, Clarksville, Memphis

Body count
Hard to measure it this time. Quite a few dead people, from crack baby to some anonymous girl gang raped and left dead in a dark alley. But none of them are really connected to the case. Because there really is no case...

Dames:
Alouette, LaVerne's daughter.

Blackouts
He's shot in the arm and passes out.

Title: 
Another poetic one, this time from the verses of  James Wright:
Further, the dark moths
Crouch at the sills ot the earth, waiting.

Not sure how to decipher it. The title or the poem. Simple explanation would be that moth symbolizes a lost person (Lew or Alouette) that is irresistibly drawn to something that he or she cannot escape and which will eventually burn him or her to death. Destiny? Not sure, somehow I don't think it's that simple.

Cover
Why do women look so incredibly cool when smoking in b&w photos? This one reminds me a lot of Anna Karina from Vivre Sa Vie.

Cool lines:  
"Ain't here," he said after a moment.
"Thank you. But allow me to make an assumption; possibly unwarranted, from that. To wit: that she was, at some unspecified point in the past, been here, though she is not presently."
"Say what?"

I stepped back into the living room and discovered that the .38 was no longer under the cushion. It was now in someone's hand, and pointed at me.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Copp For Hire (Don Pendleton, 1987)

She stepped into his office. Beautiful. Hot! ... and dead two pages later. Sleazy, dirty cops. Another corpse. His office and victim's apartment ransacked (still only on the page 25!). Strip club. Strippers (obviously). Sex. Car chase. More corpses. Dirty politician (it runs all the way to Washington) and his psychopathic henchman (worse than that he's a psycho with a license). Even more corpses and another car chase. Local Chinese mafia, white slavery, pornography, S&M, blackmail...

So its formulaic thriller featuring an ex-cop becoming PI with his own moral and justice code. His client is killed before he even starts with an investigation but in a good ol' Marlowe-ish manner he somehow feels obliged to her ("Came to me for help. Didn't give her any - should have. I am upset about that. Very upset."). But similarities with classical detective figure pretty much end at this point because his opus operandi is to basically (and usually violently) just stir shit and see what comes floating up on the water. And he does that in some style indeed! He's such a bad-ass that Pendleton doesn't even bother to describe the fight with six (!!) bouncers in any details. He simply "puts them down gently". Fight with three cops is more detailed, it even takes one whole page. Well worth since it's extremely brutal with stuff like "bones protruding from the sleeve of his jacket".

Very hard boiled and a bit noir-ish which is always a winning combination. Lightning pace (five corpses and a sixth near miss in 12 hours) but still easy to follow. Pretty much non-stop action is nicely complemented with somehow crazy narration. It's told in a first person (as all good PI mysteries should be btw) but every now and then it switches from the past to present time and on few occasions our hero even addresses readers directly. I found that a bit annoying at first but got used to it.

Really liked it, but unfortunately it all goes to shit in the last act. Like Pendleton simply got bored with this whole thing and decided to quickly wrap it up instead of adding a twist or two. Deal that Copp makes with the local authorities (being the catalyst, maybe, to shake this thing off center) doesn't make much sense, agreement with the local mobster is kind of silly and final shootout... well, it's not exactly a shootout at all.

But cool stuff anyways, will definitely pick up some other Copp stuff when I see it at the flea market.

3/5

Facts:

Hero
Joe Copp, PI

"No, I - you see... you are a private detective, aren't you?"
The lettering on the door says that. Well, what it says is Copp For Hire, which is also what my business cards say and what the godawful expensive yellow pages ad says. A small conceit. I was a public cop for eighteen years. Still think of myself that way except that now I have private sponsors.

Location
L.A. and Honolulu

Body count
7, including an innocent old night watchman but excluding (at least) "four brutal killings in the last 12 months"

Dames
Belinda Buckaroo aka Bewitching Belinda aka Linda Shelton - Age twenty-five, blond all over and beautiful all over the full five feet and ten inches... Bright, sharp, well-spoken and poised. Working on PhD in behavioral psychology. Also madame of high class hookers "club".

Blackouts: None. Which is pretty amazing considering some fights Copp is involved into and also his lack of sleep. In the first 24 hours of the case he sleeps only two hours and his next (and last) rest is during the five hours flight from LA to Hawaii.

Title: 
see 'Hero' section

Cover
Standard (and boring) thriller pocket book paperback two-sections type cover. Upper one displaying author's name in huge letters and the title. Below is a beautiful lady and Dirt Harry kind of Magnum. Can't see much of relevance to the story.

Cool lines
"Joe. When are you going to give up those goddamned cigarettes? They cause heart disease, emphysema, cancer - they'll even make you impotent.
I said, "I never heard that."
"Heard what?"
"Impotent."
"Oh yeah. Anything that needs good blood circulation to function properly. Nicotine constricts the blood vessels. Been having trouble lately getting it up?"
"Getting it down," I said.

"You will be the second to die. Right after him. Understand that? It's not a threat; it's a commitment."[The Coolest!]


I told her, "I'm expensive."
"How expensive?"
"Just like a hooker," I replied. "Hundred dollars an hour plus expenses."
She said, "Jesus," and bit her lip. Then I got the first smile out of her. Not much, but a wry little twist of the lips. "Cheap hooker," she said.
I smiled back, "Well, I don't give as much. What do you want me to do for you?"

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Bullet for Cinderella (John D. MacDonald, 1955)

The disc jockey stopped and whistled softly. "How about that, folks? They give me this stuff to read and sometimes I read it and don't even listen. But that's a hot one. That one can grab you. Bodies under concrete. Cars in lakes. Suicides that aren't suicides. A red-headed gal and an ex-Marine. Man, that's a crazy mixed-up deal they've got down there in Hillston."

I'm not the biggest fan of urban noir. To be honest, I cannot even remember anything of that genre - not written by masters like Cain, Thompson and Woolrich - that I haven't read recently. But I do have one memorable now, it's MacDonald's Cinderella.

It starts phenomenally and continues steadily with building up the suspense and mystery with gradually adding characters and events from the past. Everything just works, from the tight and smartly evolving plot to superior characterization. Our guy is not a typical anti-hero driven by greed, he's just another messed up kid trying to get his shit together after spending some rather unpleasant time in Korean war prisoners camp. Written beautifully, using pretty simple but yet somehow poetic language (see 'Unconscious' section).

Excellent stuff, but just when it was supposed to switch into the final gear, I was a bit disappointed. When our hero unravels the mystery, I was sure there was another twist coming (like Toni and Fitz scheming some shit together) but it turns out that Tal's conclusions were in fact correct so last third of the novel turns into more or less standard thriller.

4/5

Facts:

Hero:
Tal Howard, ex-soldier returning from the Korean war and trying to find himself again.


Location
Hillston - "It's more town than city. There isn't much of a transient population. Everybody seems to know everybody. It's a pretty good place." Probably fictitious since I cannot find it on Google maps.

Body count: 6

Dames
Our heroine from the title Antoinette Rasi aka Toni Raselle aka Cindy aka Cinderella - Feral look. Gypsy look. A mature woman so alive she made the others in the room look two dimensional. [Fatale]

Ruth is Toni's opposite -  "This was a for-keeps girl... This was a girl you could hurt, a girl who would demand and deserve utter loyalty." So, obviously, she's pretty boring and single dimensional character. I guess MacDonald used her to exemplify Tal's divided and messed up psyche. Or something.

There's also one from the past who we don't get a chance to know better. Which is unfortunate because Eloise apparently used to be "lush, petulant, amoral and discontented wife".

Blackouts
He gets ambushed and knocked off: "Pain blossomed red behind my eyes, a skyrocket roaring was in my ears and I felt myself fall into darkness. Few pages later he faints again when being interrogated.
 
Title: 
Cool sounding but not very accurate. Also a pretty big fucking spoiler.
 
Cover
http://johndmacdonaldcovers.wordpress.com/Unusual one because it doesn't depict a specific scene from the book. Instead it portraits an imaginary one from the past with young Toni sitting in front of the miserable river shack where she grew up. Cute and already sexy in an innocent way, but already hinting the "feral, gypsy" look. Although not taking place in "present", it makes a lot of sense because it explains why Toni became "fancy whore" later (see 'cool lines' below). 

Sniper mark over it spoils everything. It's just ridiculous, it belongs to spy thrillers... But I need to give credit to publisher for deciding to keep the original cover art (made by George Gross) and not using some generic one.

When searching for the cover picture to post here, I came across this amazing blog that posts exclusively covers of MacDonald books. Great idea, amazing content and really cool and interesting comments. Highly recommended! And I just couldn't resist borrowing one for Cinderella - it's one of the coolest I've ever seen and it really does capture the mood (and actual scene) of the book.

Cool lines:  
"Maybe you admitted too fast that it was money, Tal. I am noted for my fondness for money. It pleases me. I like the feel of it and the smell of it and the look of it. I'm nuts about it. I like all I can get, maybe because I spent so much time without any of it. A psychiatrist friend told me it was my basic drive. I can't ever have too much." [Fatale]