Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Devil's Passkey (Jimmy Shannon, 1952)

Pretty much everything in this one is bad so let us just focus on plot's main driving device - Trivium. And no, I'm not talking of neither this metal band nor of the systematic method of creative thinking. Trivium is a new synthetic drug, the "Most deadly millions-maker ever conceived to kill mankind."

That "millions-maker" part is a bit hard to understand because this drug can apparently be produced by using ingredients freely on sale in the local pharmacy for a price of an aspirin. This paradox is so ridiculous that author simply must address it and at least try to offer some sort of logical explanation. And he does. Well, sort of. It's hinted that commies might be behind the whole setup. It goes on and on (and it's pretty fucking funny too) but basic idea is that Russkies would weaken America by flooding the home of the brave with cheap and highly addictive drugs. Or some shit like that.

But this hypothesis is quickly abandoned (at least it never gets mentioned again) and we are back to a good old setup with two rival gangs and our world-saving-hero PI standing between them. But it must be said that he's not doing this job particularly well. He gets beaten all the time (see unconscious section of facts) and loses suspects on at least five occasions. When he gets stuck, he asks his religious friend to pray to God to break the case (I kid you fucking not) or simply relies on his instinct. And those parts are hilarious too, check it out:

Hell - I can't explain all the processes of reasoning that lead a man to do what he does. In women they call it intuition. In guys guess it's just plain "nose".

Huh?

It's simply bad. And not in a good way either. Blurb on the cover says "Written in the Mickey Spillane Style" and it's pretty accurate. Only I wouldn't exactly call it a style, it's more like a copy.

It made me little intrigued about Jimmy Shannon and did try to find more about him but even Google couldn't come up with nothing really useful. But Ruff Boy is listed on the Thrilling Detective website and it looks like this is his only novel. There's no other info there except for a quote from Bill Pronzini's book Gun in Cheek saying that Ruff is possibly "the least intelligent private eye ever." Cool stuff, Gun in Cheek just made my to-do list.

2/5

Facts:

Hero
Ruff Morgan aka "Ruff Boy", ex news reporter, now P.I.

Not very likable. One of those obnoxious know-all macho type assholes. Would be nice to say "please" or "thank you" every now and then when he's bossing everyone around. Btw,  for some reason he's commanding/coordinating half of the NYPD. Plus his jokes are pretty lame unless you find crap like this funny: "Jim whistled low and it wasn't Beethoven"

Oh, yeah - and why does he do it?

Why do I stay in it? Because I hate crooks. I hate rackets. I hate guys who make fools of jerks who won't stop pouring their hard-earned cash into jerk traps.

Deep stuff indeed...

Location
New York

Body count
10, not counting undercover cop Jane's mother suffering a stroke after witnessing her daughter getting killed. Also not counting at least 10 "hoods and boys" who die in the final shoot-out.

Object of desire: 
Chemical formula for Trivium. I can give you a part of it (the other one died together with professor Crocker): df 5 PHY 51 ADFR 5

Dames
Conservative, Spillane-ish kind of a mother and a whore types of women. There's his fiance Katy who is a beautiful, pure and innocent (literally - she's still a virgin) and then there's Jerry, the scheming and greedy dame. But still, our horny Ruff Boy has no problem fucking Jerry for five straight days. The whole thing is pretty misogynistic and hard to digest since Jerry gets beaten on at least three occasions.

Blackouts
He passes out for the first time on the very first page which has to be this blog's record! It goes like this:

That's when he jammed my left eye so far back in my head that it went to work with the brain department. I sailed across the counter and landed in Hattie the hat-check girl's lap. Good night Ruff Boy Morgan!

Not bad at all, I liked the brain department part. And there's more in the first chapter:

- About the twentieth smack in my eye, I blacked out. The last thing I remember was a drag on my twist and a taste of my own blood.
- I blacked out for a minute. But you got to a point where pain isn't important.
- I passed out completely

And we are far from finished! There are two more: on one occasion he's flying like a kite over New York (which is pretty cool) and on the other one there was  simply "Wham-bo! on the back of my skull"  
 
Title:  
Ruff and Jerry are kept prisoners in some futuristic laboratory made of glass walls where:

Now I learned the secret of these doorless and lockless walls. That almost needlelike key could be inserted into an almost invisible hole. A veritable Devil's passkey!

Edition:  
Signet, 1953

Cover
Slight variation of  "The 3 S's - Sex, sadism and the smoking gun" theme. It depicts a scene in which our poor unfortunate Jerry gets belted across the mouth and intimidated by Brock and Torrence.

Cool lines:  
None really. It's pretty poorly written and usage of slang goes as far as the usual kissers, dames and mugs. Plus there are these exclamations Boy! Brother! Gosh! which are little amusing (after the initial WTF) at the beginning but they soon become really annoying.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Dead in Bed (Day Keene, 1959)

In 1959 there were 80 private investigators and 145 detective agencies listed in the LA yellow pages. Still our damsel in distress insists to hire Johnny Aloha to find her mother who has been on a binge for several days. The only reason why Gwen chooses him is because he used to know her mother 15 years ago when he was still in his teens. She's so determined that Johnny is one and the only one adequate enough for this job that she flies from LA to San Francisco to persuade him to take the assignment instead of going on planned vacation to his native Hawaii. And she offers him 10 grand (around 80 grand these days according to this inflation calculator) and - in a good femme fatale tradition - promises him a "bonus of her fair white body"...

So we have a missing person case with a personal touch and not the most believable opening. Not exactly promising, but I've read worse and some eventually did turn out to be quite good. So I carried on optimistically.

For the next several chapters it's okay. Classical sleuth story - PI follows various leads (torn letter fragment found in a waste basket, lost earrings, an inscription on the back of the old photo, notes etc) that take him from point A to B and C. He's getting closer and closer to the elusive Hope Starr and along the way the supporting cast gets introduced: a (mandatory) cop friend, (another mandatory) newspaper reporter friend, English Colonel and his (I kid you not) butler and his secretary Betty. There's also a sub-plot about some Chinese bad-ass gangster with a score to settle with Johnny. Which is cool and a quite smart touch as we (together with Johnny) are not sure where the shit will come from during the investigation.

But this whole setup is pretty much totally spoiled. Because from very early on it turns out that the mentioned bonus about getting Gwen's body wasn't just a subtle hint. For some reason this innocent (literally - she's still a virgin) kid totally falls for Johnny whose libido responds accordingly so for the most of time the two of them forget completely about the "case" and simply try to get laid. This whole "relationship" is a total mess and borders on bizarre so I won't even try to describe it. But in any case, it totally takes the focus off the plot and makes the whole thing a bit dull.

Ending is a bit better. Twist is okay but the problem is that it's hardly unexpected. The thing is that so much time was lost in that corny romance/sex nonsense that other characters never got developed and not much has happened either so this "twist" is pretty obvious.

Entertaining but nothing special. I guess it was edgy and provocative in its time with stuff like Hope fucking GIs before them going back to Pacific war (giving them hope?) but it just hasn't aged well. Gave me an impression that Keene had an idea about the basic plot but instead of developing it further into something substantial, he rather opted to simply throw some sex into the pot, wrapped it up and picked up the check.

2.5/5

Facts:

Hero
P.I. Johnny Aloha from Havaii, operating in L.A. these days.

"Now tell me this. How good a detective are you?"
I didn't see any reason to be modest. "One of the very best. And if you don't believe me, you can ask the Internal Revenue Department." 

"He said you were a crazy Havaiian but one of the best private eyes in the business and could be depended to co-operate in every way with the law."

Location
L.A., San Pedro, some ski resort at Lake Arrowhead

Body count: 6

Dames
The most interesting character by far is Hope Starr, "The oversexed, fabulous and fantastic, much married cafe society beauty" and also "...practicing nymphomaniac in the last stages of acute alcoholism..."

Gwen is a typical poor little rich bitch. Young, beautiful, horny, soon to inherit forty million fortune (plus compound interest for the past twenty years!)

And let's not forget Aloha's secretary Betty. Ex Miss Strawberry Festival of some small town in Oregon. Another virgin, even though she's 19 going on 20.

Blackouts
Pretty soon at the beginning he's beaten and mugged but he doesn't pass out. Our Johnny is a pretty tough guy because towards the end he gets a blow from behind and still doesn't collapse:

It numbed me rather than hurt me. I could think but I couldn't move. Also, by some weird chemical process, all the calcium in my legs seemed to have evaporated. 

But on the very next page they finish him off by hitting him again with the blackjack and he's finally out.
 
Title: 
I not only had the wrong woman in my bed, but, unfortunately, she was dead.

Edition:  
A Triphammer Thriller, World Distributors (Manchester), 1972

Cover
Nice and very memorable for two reasons. It has a beautiful naked lady lying and masturbating (I think) on the bad and - contrary to exploitative nature of these pulps - the whole thing is extremely bright with light very overexposed which makes the motive (masturbating woman) hard to see at first.

It depicts the scene in Big Bear hotel where Gwen awaits for Johnny to deflower her of virginity. And it's just one of those that doesn't make much sense. I mean: she picks him up in his apartment and then they drive 3+ hours to stop her mother's bigamist wedding. They check into a hotel and then, instead of facing her, she send Johnny to deliver the ultimatum. So, I would assume, that she's tired and the whole situation is very tense and awkward. But I would assume wrong because while waiting for Johnny, she simply strips, jumps into bed and waits for him to get back and fuck her.

Cool lines:  
She's had six or seven husbands and God and the laundries know how many lovers.