Friday, June 19, 2015

The Lost Sister (Russel D. McLean, 2009)

Hardly a crime/mystery novel, more like a family drama. Heavy one. God-daughter of the local mobster disappears and our hero gets involved in her search. With "gets involved" I'm being vague intentionally because I'm still not sure what the fuck his motive was. First he's contacted/hired by the local newspaper, then cops ask him to be some sort of their counselor (!?),  few chapters later girl's asshole godfather wants him on the case and finally even some fellow private investigator (!!!) pays him 200 pounds to find this girl. Which gotta be some kind of a precedence - I can think of another one where PI gets hired by another sleuth. Can you?

Investigation itself is weird as much as his motives are unclear. Basically he only interviews three people and then (in a 30 pages long scene!) that other PI more or less explains everything our main man McNee needs to know about the story. You know - stuff from the past that detectives are usually supposed to uncover themselves... But then again, this is not such a bad thing since otherwise this book would probably be 1000 pages long instead of "just" 300.

Yes - 300 pages. It does take its time. Moves slowly, constantly going back into the past... with body count counter remaining still... taking its time to tell the reader a thing or two about the local history... and architecture... and - worst of all - with our hero constantly whining and feeling sorry for himself.

Surprisingly it still works pretty well. I wouldn't say it is a page turner but it's definitely not boring. Skilfully written and although pace is slow it has a nice rhythm. Dialogues are smart and they contain a decent dosage of the local slang (although it rarely goes beyond the usual Scottish wee, lass, aye, shite stuff). For my taste there's a bit too much of the psychological/philosophical crap but at the same time I didn't find it pretensions at all. And to be (a wee) pretentious myself, I'll conclude by saying that McLean maybe tried too hard to create something extraordinary and lost focus on a story along the way.

Interesting and honest writing but simply not hard-boiled/noir-ish enough for me.

3/5

Facts:

Hero
PI McNee

She looked at the card. Said, "Who're you trying to fool? Nobody's a private investigator. Not in Dundee of all places."

"You're a man with a conscience and a code and all that other bollocks, but you're also a man who drags his own disaster around with him like a wrecking ball. You want to help people. But you can't. Can't even help your fucking self."

The psychiatrist... had unofficially diagnosed me like this:
"You have to be the hero. Save everyone. Doesn't matter if you know it's bad idea. It's a compulsion. To satisfy your own ego."
I'd called shite.

Location
Dundee was Scotland's fourth city in terms of size, constantly jockeying with Aberdeen for the coveted position of third. But its reputation as the city with the small town feel was what gave it the edge.

Body count:  2

Dames
Mary Furst is 14 years old and both sisters are mess so none of them exactly qualifies as "dame"

Blackouts
Couldn't hear the words. Couldn't hear the voices. My face was on fire, pain searing up nd along my cheekbones.
Finally, I blacked out.
Call that a mercy.
 
Title: 
The kettle boiled. The switch clicked.
The idea slipped into focus.
The sister.

Edition: Five Leaves Publications, 2009. Signed!

Cover
Looks like a fucking computer manual. When I see such plain covers I often think of authors and how shitty they must feel about their publishers investing fuck all in the cover art. Long live the Hard Case Crime!

Cool lines: /

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Mongol Mask (E. Howard Hunt writing as David St. John, 1969)

Liked House Dick a lot and was really looking forward to reading this one. The outrageously blatant and hilariously over the top Conan the Barbarian-like cover art (accompanied with "atomic sex" and "torrid action" slogans) promised a memorable experience. So I would check from time to time on eBay for a decent copy priced around 15 bucks and didn't hesitate one moment when one was finally listed.

Our spy hero Peter Ward is introduced through a recent assignment in which he rescues some political prisoner/informer in Spain (I think). On his return home, we learn more about him. The usual stuff - dead wife, alive and loving sister with a couple of kids who adore him etc. He also has a dog. Standard stuff, and a bit boring to be honest. It lasts for about forty pages and then he starts his mission in Hong Kong.

And this is where things slowly go to shit. The thing is that it's not really clear what the objective of his mission is supposed to be. Chinese are apparently trying to attack the Soviet Union (!?) with some badass missiles (even worse that nukes) which would in turn somehow fatally affect USA (??). So he needs to go to this remote town close to the Mongolian border where rocket launch pad is to check it out. Or something like that. After 100+ pages he finally manages to get there and destroys one missile but another is successfully launched (even though he blows up the whole complex).

And these 100+ pages are indeed painful reading. With every chapter it gets more and more boring (and unintentionally comedic) since during this odyssey nothing really happens. Or to be more clear - nothing happens that would actually support the story in any kind of coherent way. The funny thing is that after awhile even Peter himself - super spy as he is - loses track of time and is not sure how long it has been since the mission started.

So the sinister missile is off and on its way to hit an unknown target. Peter gets picked up by the rescue plane and he safely returns to Pentagon. One would think that his assignment is over but there are still several chapters left. Because based on the hard evidence (some soldier's personal diary) that he has brought back, we finally get to know what the conspiracy is all about. And it's hilarious, check out the 'object of desire' section of the facts below.

And yet, the best is still to come. Peter is dispatched to Grenland together with a bunch of military and scientific personnel where he - surprise, surprise - saves the world. And he will do that using the Prometheus:

"Want to tell me a little more?"
"Well, we've been working on this model as a substitute for ABM emplacements. Prometheus, we call it, and the ray diameter - one square centimeter -  radiates a pulse a hundred million times hotter than an equal area of the sun's surface. I - uh - I gather you're not a science man, so I'm putting this pretty basically."

Everything is so insane that it actually has a great potential to be some sort of a trashy masterpiece. But it's not. It's just simply and plainly bad. Written poorly, no tension or suspense, very predictable, pages and pages of dull descriptions without any dialogues.

Memorable only for its cover.

2/5

Facts:

Hero:
Peter Ward - C.I.A. superstud


Location
Spain, Pentagon, journey from Hong Kong to far inside the China's inland, back to Washington, concludes in Grenland

Body count:  
27 - assuming that the crew of the plane that Peter and Mei-tang shot down (with an old rifle and a Magnum gun!) consisted only of a pilot and gunman. 

And not even counting the victims of Peter's sabotage. The exact number is never specified but Major that Peter interrogated said there were over 100 soldiers on premises. And there was also a delegation of VIPs (six vehicles) present at the launch.

Object of desire:  
Evil little yellow/red people want to melt both Polar caps which would "result in catastrophic flooding of the earth's surface.... submerging such coastal cities as New York, Washington, San Francisco, New Orleans, to name a few... And that is what we face... we reasoned that since Communists China's industrial resources are located far inland, China's leadership could point to those peripheral losses (Shanghai, Canton and Tsingtao) as defense against charges o Chinese responsibility... the world's food supply would constrict, starvation would be the order of the day - in all countries except China where, knowing what to expect, they would increase their food supplies and perhaps have enough surplus to use in a new and horrible game of international blackmail: accept the overlordship of China, or starve."

Huh, "overlordship"? Even my spellchecker is lost with this one.
 
Dames
Mei-tan - widow of an executed Chinese scientist. She soon succumbs to Peter's charms and in no time they start fucking. And although cover promises "Atomic sex", all we get in this department is some pretty corny stuff: "He felt her hand touch his hair, stroking it gently... her tights touched his... he turned to feel her small nipples prick his chest... their bodies met... desire overcame fatigue... their bodies merged in the primal combat in which there is no victor and no vanquished."

Blackouts
He glimpsed something moving with great speed, a grenade exploded in his skull... Then unbearable, enveloping pain smothered him completely.
 
Title: 
Beats me. There's no mask, Mongolian or not, involved in this one.

Edition:  
First Dell printing - July 1969

Cover
Crazy stuff (the middle one is giving him a blow job, isn't she?!) and it actually depicts the scene where Peter is taken prisoner by some Mongolian Amazons (ahem) who use him as their sex slave.

As usually on these paperbacks, no credits are given for illustration but according to this super cool site it was created by the legendary Jeffrey Catherine Jones.

Notable cover blurbs: 
"Fantastic adventures... orgies of the most lurid kind... wildly exciting"
-- King Features Syndicate
 
Cool lines:  
None really, unless you find stuff like this amusing:

Who knows? he pondered. The decision might even have been made. Washington's made decisions before - maybe they've made one now. They didn't tell me to blow the dam and destroy the missiles I discovered. But they supplied the means. 

And, btw, I didn't mistype. These kind of switches from a third to first person narration (and also from past to present time) are pretty frequent...