Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Switch (Elmore Leonard, 1978)

Last Wednesday was the first anniversary of Elmore Leonard's death and what better way to pay maestro a respect than reading one of his novels? Had this one sitting on my shelf for several weeks and it was perfect time to check it out.

It's a story about kidnapping that goes wrong (as all kidnappings eventually do). This time the fuck-up happens because the husband doesn't really want his wife back (furthermore, he prefers her dead) and also - to be honest - because Louis and Ordell are hardly some hard-core professional bad-ass criminal types.

A bit crazy, full of weird (and black) humor that fluctuates between thriller and (almost) comedy. At times pretty unreal and even unbelievable but story somehow holds water. At least I was unable to find some big plot holes or inconsistencies.

It's of course all about the characters, nobody (except Willeford) does them better than Elmore Leonard. Once again it was such a joy to follow their introductions (or audition as Leonard used to call this stage) and further developments. Felt like the author really liked them and had lots of fun with moving them around like figures on the chessboard, disposing them (Marshall) or introducing some new ones (Melanie). My only little criticism would be regarding Frank because he really is a bit too cartoonish and stereotyped asshole yuppie.

Not Leonard's best work but still immensely enjoyable.

4/5

Facts:

Hero
No central hero in this one. At first I liked Ordell (probably because Samuel L. Jackson was so cool in Jackie Brown), then I started to cheer for Mickey (she liked George Carlin btw) but at the end I think Melanie won over them all.

Location
Detroit and shortly Bahamas

Body count: 1 + one critically wounded police officer

Dames
Mickey, the tennis wife and double-crossing Melanie

Blackouts: /

Title: 
Kidnappers Louis and Ordell refer to the exchange of Mickey for the money as "The Switch". But it could also mean the switch inside Mickey because once she was kidnapped "She felt alive. Excited but calm."

Cover
Dark and sinister photo showing kidnapped Mickey. Pretty accurate with her wearing the white blouse and black tape over her eyes. I think it depicts a scene when they first contacted Frank with the ransom demand.

Cool lines: /

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Cockeyed Corpse (Richard S. Prather, 1964)

Private detective Shell Scott gets an assignment to investigate whether a death of an actress on the set of an obscure nudie flick was an accident or a murder. Being bored in the hot L.A., our hero doesn't waste no time to depart to the filming location in Arizona expecting to have a weekend of paid vacation in the company of the remaining female cast. Which, of course, won't happen because we know in advance there are some hoods hanging around the ranch where production takes place. And to make things clear to Shell (plus to make action going) two cowboys attempt to shoot him upon his arrival.

So we have a plot but unfortunately it doesn't exactly thicken much from here on. There's almost no mystery or suspense: bad guys try to kill Shell and beautiful women try to seduce Shell while he tries to prevent them from being killed. And this initially interesting and a bit unusual setup of hard-boiled city gangsters and sexploitation movie-makers confined in a rural background pretty soon starts to fade out.

Weak, hard to swallow plot and pretty unbelievable twist aside, I think that book's style was what annoyed me the most about this one. It's only 140 pages long but it doesn't move anywhere. Every single thing takes ages (that fucking rodeo needs ten pages to complete) and Prather spends more effort on describing trivial stuff than to let story breathe and develop with any kind of decent pace. Also had a bit of a problem with dialogs. Pretty lame and without some cool slang and/or cynical one-liners thrown in every now and then that you would expect from hard-boiled PI and city hoodlums (Shell at one stage calls them sub-humans which I had found pretty funny).

Also didn't care much about our hero. He's a kind of a Mike Hammer wannabe - maybe tough enough (he kicks the shit out of the three assholes quite efficiently!) but definitely pretty pathetic at his attempts to be witty or street-wise and failing miserable as a womanizer. Check out his thoughts on four girls that were trying to seduce him:

They stuck closer together than was normal, certainly than was fair. They were going to barbecue together, to the dance together, and - I got the impression - to bed together, which was certainly a sickening impression.

Huh?

I don't know. It's an unusual blend of cozy and hard-boiled crime that I guess was written for younger audience and just hasn't aged very well in my opinion. I'm sure some people love this kind of stuff, I'm just not one of them.

2.5/5

Facts:

Hero
Shell Scott, PI

Location:
"Sun and Sage" Dude Ranch, Arizona

Body count: 8 plus "one only half live"

Dames
April, blonde Delise, redheaded Choo Choo, black-haired and black-eyed Zia

Blackouts
Two of them. Which is not bad for such a short novel but then again it's not great for a guy who calls himself the unconscious detective. First one is more than decent:

I don't know how it is that you can know that you've been sapped, when the fact of the matter is that a split second after being sapped you're unconscious. I guess it's just that my mind works with lightning speed - because I knew I'd been sapped.

But then (as usually) it goes on for another hefty paragraph and spoils everything. Coming out is described pretty good too, in a classic Marlowe-ish manner:

I was climbing out of a dark, slippery hole, and soft tentacles of blackness wrapped themselves around me, holding me back.

But here too, it just continues to go on and on. 

Second passing out is not as good as this one - he simply falls off the wild horse.
 
Title: 
Main villain stages his fake death by killing some unfortunate dude and later refers to him as the "cockeyed corpse" because his face was smashed after falling down for seventeen stories. When Shell finishes off this villain asshole he uses the same expression for describing his final state.

Cover
Surviving girls (see 'dames' section) of "The Wild West" movie cast who are running for a cover when attempt on April life was being made. So it's pretty accurate with an exception of those tree branches covering their boobs.

Cool lines:  
I knew him. I also knew the gun in his left hand, an unusual gun, a Beretta Brigadier, 9 mm. Luger.
The Brigadier is an automatic pistol which fires nine shots. In the right place, one would be enough. And he had it aimed at one of the right places.