Saturday, July 25, 2015

Death of a Flack (Henry Kane, 1961)

There are three beautiful women in this one, three cases of blackmail and even three (!) private detectives somehow involved... but still plot is very simple and straightforward. Our hero doesn't really investigate in a traditional sense of conducting interviews, chasing leads, piecing pieces of evidence together and so on. Various clients simply hire him to do pretty trivial tasks (like blackmail money delivery) so he goes from a point A to B and C and along the way collects plenty of cash and few fat checks. No action, not much of a mystery or drama, not much of anything.

Towards the end this became clear to a Mr. Kane himself because he included this somehow apologetic (funny?) paragraph:

- a sizable sum in total aggregate of $7300, but if any of you, inspired by this reading, are overcome with the desire to rush into the business of private-eyeing, I must hasten to promulgate the harsh facts of the interminable succession of rank; blank days between bonanzas which flatten the average to exactly that - average. You want to make money? Invent a toilet paper with a new scent for each day of the week and sit back and wipe up the profits.

Hasten to promulgate the harsh facts of the interminable succession?

Anyway, this book's not bad at all and some parts are actually hilarious (see cool lines) but it lacks any kind of a hard-boiled edge. Maybe because of all the beautiful and rich people who throw money (and sometimes themselves) to our PI making his job too easy. And partly also because he himself is not very likable and/or interesting fella. A bit narcissistic too and definitely a sexist asshole. There is a hard to digest scene in which he slaps Sherry twice simply because she's wouldn't fuck him. True, he doesn't feel exactly good about it afterward but his rationalizing is really fucking weird. He somehow concludes that she's a lesbian ("I now knew she was evil") and asks himself a rhetorical question "Did that lessen my desire for her?" which finally brings us to some really misogynistic shit:

I knew why I had hit her. A courting male knows, almost instinctively, the manner of approach to the female of his desire. Some need flowers, some need poems, some need music, some need attentions, some need surliness, some need silence, some need dominance - Sherry Greco needed a good belt in the jaw. I had struck her as part of my wooing act. I had enhanced her respect for me. I had begun to earn her.

Crazy stuff. I wish Kane would have dedicated some of this negative energy to improve the plot instead. It just leaves a dark spot on this otherwise entertaining little pulp.

3/5

Facts:

Hero
Pete Chambers, Fast-moving PI

"Now don't pretend to be a hipster with me, Mr. Chambers. I happen to know you for what you are - an incurable romantic, a Don Quixote in a custom-tailored suit, and essentially and forever, and admirably, a softie."

"Good-bye, Mr. Chambers. You're an awfully frigging clever bastard, aren't you?"

Location
New York

Body count: 4

Object of desire: 
$800,000 dollars worth tiara fashioned in 1550 by Benvenuto Cellini especially for Eleonora, Princess of the House of Medici.
 
Dames
Three of them, introduced straight away, on the third page:

- the poetess, Miss Lori Gilmore (the jeweler's daughter), the inamorata, Miss Sophia Patri (the jeweler's latest sweetheart), the belly dancer, Miss Sherry Greco (my date) - were homogenous in aspects of beauty: they were all ravishingly attractive women, although each was of an entirely different mien... blonde, slender, sinuous, smoky-eyed, intense, reserved, and sullen... tall, red-haired, green-eyed, glistening-mouthed, and shaped with extravagant, bewitching, and always-exposed curves... a full ripe figure, tawny skin, and black smoldering eyes

Blackouts: /

Title: 
Flack part:

A flack is a press agent before he becomes a public relations counselor. A public relations counselor is a press agent with a fancy office, important clients, and a rapturous con.

Death part:

He appeared to be regarding us with three eyes, two of which were glazed. The third was a round red hole just above the bridge of his nose. Parker went to him, went from him, reported: "Very dead."

Edition:  
Signet, first printing, May 1961
 
Cover
Cool and pretty hot illustration of Sophia Patri that (probably) depicts a scene in which our hero comes to Patri's apartment and gets ultra horny by simply seeing her armpit! (The smooth hollow of her armpit was more prod to libido than total nudity). According to this cool photo album it was made by Robert Abbett. 

Cool lines:
Pretty weak on dialogues, but Henry Kane is THE "Master" of metaphors. Although I'm not sure I actually get half of these (and there are much more in the book) they are still unforgettable:

The drizzle had sundered as the hymen of a star-struck virgin upon the first suggestion of a skinny crooner. 

A New Yorker has about as much use for an automobile in this city of car-crowded curbs and congested traffic as he might have for a chrome-adorned toboggan.

I had found him as reliable as rock, as solid as steel, as resourceful as a tiger on the prowl.

I was shuttling in and out of my apartment as though it were a bathroom and I was in the unfortunate piss press of chronic prostatitis. 

The lady's  motives were as grossly apparent as the bulge in the tights of the male star of ballet.

That sat her back on her pretty ass for a moment but she came up swinging like a marijuana group at a progressive-jazz session.

Studded throughout the place, like sparse cloves in an insufficiently spiced ham, were other wan business executives morosely mending last night's sins.

My gastric juices jumped like a sensitive gal insensitively goosed.

His eyes bulged like an overstuffed brassiere. 

The damned thing had more glow than an Irishman full of Scotch whiskey. 

Her firm, young, pointed, pear-shaped breasts had nipples that stuck out like the spiteful tongues of spiteful children.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Nick Carter - Ice Trap Terror (Jeffrey Wallman, 1974)

Came across this one in Bill Pronzini's super mega cool anthology Gun in Cheek. It was around the time when I finished The Mongol Mask and since they are both driven by a similar bizarre "meteorological" plot vehicle it seemed only natural to compare these two alternative masterpieces (as Pronzini would put it) and gauge them on the scale of ridiculous-meter. And besides, it's about time this blog gets a Nick Carter entry.

But without boring myself again, I can only report it is as bad as Mongol was. Similar kind of  a dull and humorless writing where bodies pile with lightning speed but still everything (including sex scenes) takes ages.

Until we reach the final shootout in the penultimate chapter. The mighty chapter thirteen!! Crazy stuff, impossible to describe how over the top that shit is. Instead I'll take my time and re-type some of the best bits below. Sit down, relax and enjoy:

One bullet caught him in the throat as he began to yell and the other poked his eye out.
Bullet poking an eye out??
 
"There have been reports of a woman."
Zembla gave a derisive snort. "Leave it to Carter to have a girl along, treating this as if were a vacation at a sex club..."

And btw - he speaks with "the furious, dogmatic voice". Dogmatic voice?

Fast forward a couple of pages and we find Zembla attempting to kill Carter and Tamara utilizing one of the craziest killing methods I can remember of:

The copter banked slightly and came slithering toward us.
"That bastard! That sonofabitch! I raged. "He's going to drift overhead and pick us off like sitting ducks! Keep your head down, Tamara. Don't look."

Towards the end Carter has no escape plan, but:

There wasn't any thought as to the odds of discovering a boat, or if we could find a way to run it; there had to be a boat available, if we were to survive. It was as simple as that.

And sure enough:

There was a boat, a sleek and sassy thirty-foot craft, bobbing wildly at its lines like a maverick stallion straining in a chute.
 
The End. Brilliant, isn't it?

3.5/5 (adding an extra point for the chapter 13)

Facts:

Hero
Nick Carter, agent of fictional (I think) spy agency AXE

Location
Hard to keep up, but I think that Nick and Tamara fly to the following countries with her little Cessna: Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama

Body count: 53

Object of desire:  
Disrupting weather and creating temporary ice age by creating artificial mountains in order to conquer Central America and start a Third Mayan Empire.

Confused? Let Colonel Zembla explain it himself:

"My idea is merely to make a mountain. That is, simulate one with radio waves, projecting all the symptoms  of a mountain into the air currents of the troposphere. That would have to be about fifteen thousand feet to insure snow. Nobody will see it, and a plane can fly right through it, but the weather will know it is there!" 

Still confused? I cannot really explain something I don't understand fully myself, so I would suggest you check pages 35-38.

Dames
KGB agent Tamara:

It was a face to remember. So was the rest of her, for that matter. Her body was everything a woman's body should be - taut-breasted beneath her checkered woolen shirt, and leggy down to her mid-calf boots. Her face was heart-shaped and matched her body's promise of tenderness and passion.

But make no mistake:

Tamara was tough, pragmatic, and courageous, and above all, nobody's fool.

Blackouts
They should put Nick into one of those Duracell batteries commercials because he's indestructible. Shot and wounded twice, repeatedly beaten (including once getting kicked in his balls) and having sex (twice) while trying to save the world and not once he loses his senses. But at the end of that epic chapter #13, when the mission is accomplished, he finally gets his well deserved black out moment:

But as the yawning pit of unconsciousness closed over me, I looked up at the sky and smiled. The weather was changing again.
 
Title: 
see 'object of desire' section

Edition: 
Tandem Book, 1977

Cover:  
see 'hero' and 'object of desire' sections

Cool lines
Her round, high breasts were like frozen apples against my bare chest.[The Coolest!]

Monday, July 13, 2015

Nothing More Than Murder (Jim Thompson, 1949)

This one isn't interested much into the actual act of crime or the prior plotting leading to it. Which is just as well since the bad guys' plan is pretty pathetic. Good old double indemnity insurance scam with a bit of a (silly) twist. Wife catches our hero Joe cheating and then the trio together decides to resolve this unfortunate situation by faking her death and collecting the insurance money to pay her off so Joe and Carol can live and fuck happily ever after. And the silly twist? They manage to get the "replacement" body by simply placing an advert in a local newspaper seeking for a woman that physically resembles Elizabeth (she would die in fire burnt beyond the recognition so her body/face isn't really important).

With such an amateurish (stupid?) plan it is of course only a question of when and not if they will get caught. It's also a question of who will blow up the whole setup since Joe soon finds himself blackmailed by a couple of local scumbags, investigated by the insurance company PI while his accomplice/lover gets more and more distrustful (and unpredictable). And if all that weren't bad enough, he's also in the middle of a fight against the (very hostile) takeover of his movie theater.

And this is where novel's brilliance comes in. Joe is a bit like Sheriff Nick Corey from Pop. 1280 - a manipulator who schemes all the time in order to get his way out of the troubles. So instead of a classical whodunnit, the suspense here is about guessing how he'll manage to untangle the messy web he got himself caught in. And although he's a bit of an asshole (but then again, the whole cast consists of assholes), he's still likeable and even honest in his own way so I must admit I was kind of cheering for him.

Cool stuff and even though this is very early Thompson (his first "proper" crime genre novel), it is put together masterfully. Snappy dialogues, superb characterization of the main protagonist (I would dare say that others are neglected intentionally), great storytelling with some flashbacks thrown in and just enough psychological stuff to keep it interesting even though the plotting is not very strong. It simply works, everything clicks as it should.

And cannot finish this writing without mentioning the small town mentality and seedy movie theaters and film distribution industry milieu into which the story is placed. Amusing stuff that provides a good atmosphere and gives a story realistic and authentic tone. Too bad that "Glossary of exhibitor terms" is at the end and not at the beginning of the book Was a bit confused at first when coming upon terms like "dark" (not in operation; a dark house), "product" (pictures) and "paper" (advertising matter). But it wasn't too distracting and it eventually got cool once I got this slang.

Maybe a bit too light and naive for my taste  (I saw that ending twist coming way too soon) but it didn't really matter. Enjoyed it a lot.

4.5/5

Facts:

Hero
According to a local newspaper: "Joseph J. Wilmot, local theater magnate"

Location
Imaginary small-town of Stoneville. At least I think it doesn't exist since I was unable to find one on Google maps that would be "an hour driving from the City" or "thirty miles from Wheat City"

Body count
2, possibly another one since I'm not sure how to interpret "I caught him right in the act of slugging Jimmie Nedry"

Dames
I'd thought she looked awkward  and top-heavy, and, hell, I could see now that she didn't at all. Her breasts weren't too big. Jesus, her breasts!
She looked cute-mad and funny-sweet. She looked liked she'd started somewhere and been mussed up along the way.
She was a honey. She was sugar and pie. She was a bitch. [Fatale]

Blackouts
The whiskey never reached my mouth. I couldn't get it that high. It trickled out on my shirt front, and then the bottle dropped from my hand to the floor. And I followed it.
 
Title: 
Cool sounding. It probably refers to a trivial and over simplistic plan that our murderous trio puts together

Edition: Black Lizard 1985

Cover
Nice, old school type of illustration. Made by the guy named Kirwan who has apparently created covers for all of the Black Lizard's classics reissues. And they all look great!

Notable cover blurbs: 
"Jim Thompson is the best suspense writer going, bar none."
- New York Times

Not that I disagree but still it seems strange that they would regard him as "writer going" seven years after his death.

Cool lines:  
She smiled, kind of like an elevator boy smiles when you ask him if he has lots of ups and downs.