Friday, December 26, 2014

Let's Hear It for the Deaf Man (Ed McBain, 1972)

In this one we follow three unrelated cases assigned to detectives Carella and Kling. So, I guess, it's about a typical week at the 87th precinct police station.

The best one by far is the "Jesus case" - young man, wearing only shorts, was found nailed to the wall in the abandoned building. I loved the scene in which various officials (medical examiner, detectives, policeman) who arrive at the crime scene argue about who is responsible to get the poor John Doe off the wall and into the morgue. Investigation that follows is not exactly a typical “police procedural” but I think it’s a pretty common one – it’s basically a legwork. Since the only solid clue that Kling has is a left tennis shoe, all he can really do is to roam around the neighborhood asking people “Have you seen this man?” Things do start to unravel when he finally encounters a suspicious guy acting nervously and not willing to cooperate. And he’s missing the left shoe...

So, btw, I would disagree with that “he eventually cracks [the case] mainly thanks to the long arm of coincidence” in the otherwise excellent review that can be found here.

Second story is cool too. It’s about catching a daring thief who operates in an area of posh apartments and who’s arrogant enough to leave a little kittens as a calling cards in burglarized flats. It’s quite intriguing and at times funny (liked that part where surveillance cop’s undercover is immediately blown by a stripper) with an unexpected ending. Needs to be said though that the whole thing gets a bit tarnished by a silly romance between Kling and supermodel Augusta whose flat was on our cat (kitten)-and-mouse guy's list. It goes something like this: "You're so beautiful... Yes, I am but it's my job to be beautiful... You are beautiful too"...

Third one, unfortunately the central one, is a total mess. It's about this uber criminal Deaf Man - modern Dr. Moriarty kind of type - planning and pulling off a bank heist. The essence of his ingenious master-plan is to hit the bank twice in the same day so that the second time employees wouldn't be so alert and (with a little bit of luck) police would ignore the silent alarm even if one would be triggered. Hm... Obviously, in order for this to work, Deaf Man needs to make sure that the first attempt will fail so he sends few cryptic clues to the police department. Which are in fact so cryptic (for example picture of the Japanese zero fighter symbolizes circle which represents repetition; get it?) that police chooses to simply ignore them. And I must say I didn't blame them...

I don't know. I guess McBain tried to blend his police procedural stuff into a classical mystery but the end result just doesn't work. But nevertheless, it was quick and fun read. Definitely worth 1 euro it cost me.

3/5

Facts:

Hero:
Detectives Steve Carella and Bert Kling

Location
The usual "The city in these pages is imaginary..." stuff, but it's pretty obvious that it takes place in New York. In fact, the whole 10th chapter is "dedicated" to the city which was for me a bit redundant...

Body count
5, not counting "badly wounded" robber of the second "assault team" and also not counting the guy killed in the domestic violence call from the above mentioned 10th chapter that has nothing to do with any of the three stories.

Dames
Supermodel Augusta Blair - He had never seen a more beautiful woman in his life
Angela Gould  - "perhaps the least attractive woman the Deaf Man had ever met."
Mary Margaret Ryan - "as sweet a young lass as had ever crossed herself in the anonymous darkness of a confessional."

Blackouts
Carella gets knocked out when muggers sent by the Deaf Man steal his badge and gun.

Title: 
Pretty weak one in my opinion. And it totally ignores the other two stories. Something like "Deaf Man's caper, the Jesus case and little kittens left behind" would sound much cooler.

Cover
Deaf Man is not really deaf, he's just hard of hearing so he wears a hearing aid.

Notable cover blurbs: 
For some reason reviewer at Sunday Telegraph found this "Marvelously ingenious, as always." Surely they were not referring to Deaf Man's master plan!?

Cool lines:  
The girls were wearing blue jeans and long hair. The boys were bearded. In terms of police investigation, this was awkward. It meant they could be (a) hippies, (b) college students, (c) anarchists, (d) prophets, (e) all of the foregoing. To many police officers, of course, long hair or a beard (or both) automatically meant that any person daring to look like that was guilty of (a) possession of marijuana, (b) intent to sell heroin, (c) violation of the Sullivan Act, (d) fornication with livestock, (e) corrupting the morals of a minor, (f) corruption, (g) treason, (h) all of the forgoing. Carella wished he had a nickel for every clean-shaven, crew-cutted kid he had arrested for murdering his own brother. On the other hand, he was a police officer and he knew that the moment he showed his badge in this place, these long-haired youngsters would automatically assume he was guilty of (a) fascism, (b) brutality, (c) drinking beer and belching, (d) fornication with livestock, (e) harassment, (f) all of the foregoing. Some days, it was very difficult to earn a living.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death (Donald E. Westlake writing as Tucker Coe, 1966)

Interesting and quite original premise. An ex-cop, disgraced and fired from the police force after some serious fuck up (his partner got killed while Mitch was cheating on his wife), is hired by a mobster to find his mistress’ killer. Our hero Mitch is more or less happy with (literally) building a wall around him but he also feels bad about his wife needing to support the family. So he decides to take a well paid job.

So it’s a kind of PI mystery combined with a police procedural and it works pretty well. My only little objection would be that it’s a bit too procedural so it slowly becomes repetitive. Mitch’s modus operandi basically consists of systematically interviewing suspects on the list compiled by his employees. With a few exceptions (like blowing up his improvised office) nothing much happens in the course of his investigation and revealing the culprit at the end is done very much in Poirot classical whodunit style. Which is okay, I certainly didn’t see it coming.

Since this is Westlake’s (and mine) introductory novel of Mitch Tobin, I guess our main man deserves a word of two. He’s definitely neither the stereotypically Parker-like tough guy nor comically eccentric Dortmunder-like joker. Tobin is just an ordinary (and quite likeable) guy, a smart cop who had a bad break but doesn’t seem to be too bitter about it. Plus I think Westlake made a good decision by not portraying him as a guilt-ridden jobless drunk deserted by his wife (who in fact forgave him for cheating and hadn’t deserted him at all). Which is another thing I liked about this book: there’s no family shit or drama whatsoever. When things get hot, Mitch sends his family away and they return once the case is solved. Nice!

Quick and entertaining read. Solid, fluent and easy to follow story without heavy character studies or complex sub-plots. At times it felt like something Westlike decided to put together quickly after becoming fed up with Parker novels.

3.5/5

Facts:

Hero
Mitchell Tobin, ex-cop. Doing private investigations these days.

Location
New York

Body count: 4

Dames
Rita Castle, the victim

Blackouts: /

Title: 
One of those poetic types. "Kinds of love" part makes sense and it's pretty easy to decipher. It relates to either Rembek's feelings towards Rita (It was guilt that kept him tied to his wife, but it was desire that had linked him with Rita Castle) or Donner's feelings towards his disturbed sister. Not sure about the kinds of deaths though, people die in this one in pretty standard ways (strangulation, bomb explosion, shootings)

Cover
Pretty cool, showing Mitch being tempted by the money.

Cool lines:  
"Failure is your way of life," I said. "Don't try to change it."
She turned her head, with puzzled animation in her eyes. "That's a rotten thing to say."
"Bring me the money, Betsy."

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Halo for Satan (Howard Browne writing as John Evans, 1948)

Private detective Paul Pine is hired by a priest, an aging mobster and two beautiful women to find some ancient manuscript written by, ahem, none other that our savior Jesus Christ. With such incredibly preposterous plot vehicle (and I'll get back to this, no worries) this one didn't promise much at the beginning. With all respect to Browne and in spite of his reputation...

But it gets better and better with every chapter. Classical hard-boiled detective novel (see facts below), filled with dames, gangsters, sinister killers, tough cops etc. Everything is a bit over the top but plot is really cool and every now and then author throws a curve ball that misleads the reader. Of course, everything culminates with an excellent and surprising whodunit that makes sense. Story is easy to follow and it's driven mostly by snappy dialogues and action. Truly cannot remember the last time I read such a good imitation of Chandler.

Pine shares a lot of characteristics with Marlowe: he is cool, smart, streetwise, witty, resourceful, efficient (he hardly sleeps and spends nights being interrogated by the police after finding corpses), follows his moral code (I like to keep my promises!) and - above all - he has an attitude. The Attitude! I loved the scene where he takes his money out of the wallet before handing it to a cop for identification. Hilarious! I will be tempted to do that myself next time police stop me :)

But there are of course differences too. He reads a lot and in fact keeps books instead of a bottle in the office drawer. In this one he reads a couple of paperbacks written by Philip Wylie and William P. McGivern (The women in it were beautiful and the private eye was brilliant). Pine is not as cynical (disillusioned?) as Marlowe and his methods also differ a bit. For example, I was surprised he had given the name of his client to both the police (in fact he made a deal with them and used client's name for barging) and mobster...

And before I wrap this up, what about that Christ nonsense? Manuscript actually never materializes and it (supposedly) gets burned before the end. So it is either another curve ball thrown at us to make the plot more interesting or it's maybe simply a "stuff that dreams are made of".

Either way, this is excellent stuff. More than appropriate for 100th post of this blog.

5/5

Facts:

Hero:
"Private investigations." Her voice quavered ever so lightly. "Does that mean you're a detective, Mr.Pine?"
"Just a private kind," I said. "I couldn't arrest anybody, if that's what you mean."

Location
Chicago

Body count
7 - not forgetting Kurt in LA, but not counting Louie who died peacefully in his sleep.

Dames
A lovely girl, Lola North. Enough figure and not too many years and a face that could come back and haunt you and maybe stir your baser emotions. A girl who could turn out to be pure as an Easter lily or steeped in sin and fail to surprise you either way. 

Constance Benbrook was a beautiful woman whose glands were stronger than her inhibitions. Shake the tree even gently and she'd fall right in your lap.
 
Blackouts
He gets knocked out twice:

Whoever was behind the blackjack must have been an old hand at the game. I never heard a thing.

Something came down on the back of my head and simultaneously I felt the gun torn from my fingers.
The pavement reached slowly up and laid itself against my cheek.
 
Title:  
But this time we gave a halo to the wrong man. This time it was a halo for Satan. 

Cover
Cool illustration of the scene in which Constance finds Pine regaining consciousness.

Cool lines
"How do you know he's dead?"
"The blood ran out of him and hardly anyone can live without blood."
That one got what it deserved. "You drunk, young man?"[The Coolest!]

"Have you get anything, Paul?" She sounded anxious.
"Leprosy. Go away."[The Coolest!]

"Don't give me that," I said nastily. "You could sit on his belly and eat your breakfast. You're tougher than the sides of a battleship and we both know it."

No more fear in her face now. Fury, the kind of fury that would put claws at my throat in the next three seconds. Hatred, the kind of hatred that pulls triggers. The jungle looked at me out of those wild brown eyes and I stepped back one step.

She was as confident and at ease as a Mississippi congressman up for re-election. She was a widow with millions in the bank and a smooth story ready to tell: two things every cop would respect.

Her left hand was hanging limply at her side. Her right hand was pointing a small blue-steel automatic at the sweet roll I'd had for breakfast.