Monday, September 28, 2015

A Killer is Loose (Gil Brewer, 1954)

Surprisingly, there are no virgins or femme fatales in this Brewer's pulp. Instead we have Ralph Angers - an eye surgeon specialist who only wants to build a hospital. He even has the exact blueprints of this hospital and he carries them manically with him all the time. I say manically because he in fact is a maniac. A poor guy is a Korean war veteran who has suffered a nervous breakdown and now wonders around some Florida small town where he stumbles upon our hero Steve. To be precise, it's the other way around since it is Steve who saves doc's life and by doing this (unknowingly) forms a band between the two men. Which in practical terms means he becomes (a kind of) a hostage who must follow the crazy doc on his killing spree.

It's fast moving, told in real-time and totally unpredictable. Cool stuff but unfortunately it doesn't work all the time. Especially parts where action takes place outside are not always totally believable. I mean - surely someone would have noticed a couple of guys walking around in the evening covered in mud with one of them carrying a gun in plain sight? But parts that take place indoors are excellent! Home invasion on Mrs Graham's house is a masterclass in tension escalation (reminded me to see Desperate Hours again) and scene with that little girl alone in the big house repeatedly having to play "Dancing in the Dark" on piano is the creepiest stuff I've read in a long time.

It's not exactly an in-depth study of mental illness but it's not just another serial killer story either. I think it tries to say that we sometimes need a bit of a shock therapy in order to appreciate the things we have. Steve is an invalid, he's jobless with his house under two mortgages but once he gets on this insane journey into darkness with Angers, all he can think of is his wife delivering their baby. Nice.

4/5

Facts:

Hero
I guess technically Steve would be our hero. But he keeps whining and doesn't do much about the situation except repeating how hopeless it is. And sometimes even praying. Fucking praying! So I think I'll chose Dr. Angers as a hero in this one.

Location
Some unnamed small town in Pinellas county, Florida

Body count
5, not counting the old man who was shot (but never confirmed as dead) after the accident and also not counting a cop towards the end (who simply dropped after being shot). Btw and for the record  - didn't feel too bad about that real-estate asshole.

Object of desire: 
To build a hospital where Dr. Angers could perform eye transplantation surgeries.

Dames
Lillian, a former dancer from Seattle and now (involuntary) girlfriend of Dr. Angers. There's also  large-breasted and round-hipped Mrs. Graham.

And there's a couple of appearances of Harvey Aldercook's woman. She is totally irrelevant to the story (don't remember if we even get to know her name) so it is even more surprising how viciously she is presented:

She was an insult to the female gender, a short circuit in the voluptuous, tender woman flesh man dreams upon. She was one of these ash-blonde, bony, saucer-eyed, skull-grinning, jut-jawed, false-breasted, fake-fannied, angle-posing, empty-thighed in-betweens they stamp out like tin slats for Venetian blinds in some bloodless, airless underground factory to supply that increasingly bewildering demand for sexless models such as she for certain women’s fashion magazines, where they loll backward gaping and pinch-nostriled in tight red and silver sashes, over an old freshly varnished beer barrel, holding long skinny umbrellas, point down in a sand dune. Sometimes you see them swooning pipe-lidded, paper-pale over a swirling Martini in a triple-sized cocktail glass with their long fleshless golden-tipped claws clamped buzzard-like around the stem.

Blackouts: /

Title: 
Dr. Ralph Angers is loose and he is killing people.

Edition: 
eBook

Cover
Pretty cool but it could be better. Angers' face expression doesn't look particularly psychopathic. And he doesn't have a briefcase for his roll of blueprints.

Cool lines:  
The drunk down the bar lifted his head. "I'm alcoholic. Will somebody buy me a beer?"

The Luger was like a melting chocolate cake in my hip pocket. [The Coolest!]

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Johnny Staccato (Frank Kane writing as Frank Boyd, 1960)

Damsel in distress saved by the knight in a shining armor - pretty typical and formulaic P.I. pulp story. Slightly below average to be honest.

First thing that didn't seem right was a pretty lame motive for the initial killing. Doubtless, Les was an ultra-mega asshole and probably did deserve what he got... but is it possible that radio DJ in the early 60s would be really such powerful figure in show-business that he could (and this guy actually did) make or break the careers of singers? I somehow doubt it, even though he was the nation's number-one disc jockey.

Story is a bit flat. Although there is some action and Johnny tries hard to make something happen, everything is centered around a handful of suspects who - by some weird coincidence - had all visited our unfortunate DJ an hour or so before he was killed. Busy guy he was indeed.

Last little problem I had was the protagonist. Not that the author isn't trying, but Johnny simply doesn't come across as a likable guy. He's full of himself, macho guy (he gets laid twice) with near zero sense of humor (still he keeps grinning to everyone after delivering his "witty" one-liners) and some kind of a wanna-be artist (he plays piano in a night club) with a sensitive soul.

But more importantly - he's not much of a detective either (he has hunches and stuff is bugging him all the time) so it is quite surprising when NYPD and DA decide to hand him over the case for 48 hours. Johnny's plan? Believe it or not, here it is: 

“So now I take the forty-eight hours you've given me and I try to retrace my steps to see if I can pick up what it is that's bugging me.”

But it's still okay, I quite liked it. There's a nostalgic feel of the 30s and 40s and in that sense it works great. Straight-forward plotting with clues leading our hero from point A to B and finishing in a staged round-up of all the suspects and (not very) surprising revealing twist. Dialogs are pretty weak but slang is cool and some archaic expressions left me laughing out loud.

2.5/5

Facts:

Hero
Johnny Staccato P.I. - A smooth man on the ivories, hot on the trigger, and cool in a jam—he's the toughest private eye to hit America in a decade.

Must admit it took me some time to decipher that "ivories" bit (remember - he's a pianist). But finally managed to do it with a little help of a dictionary.

Location
New York:
As he walked past, little groups on the sidewalk in front of some of the places parted for him silently, from the doorways of others came a word of greeting. Some he returned, some he shrugged off. There was a lot to be desired, but in the last analysis, it was the Village. And to Staccato, the Village was home.
Body count:  3

Object of desire: 
Sex for Johnny and Les, fame and money for Shelley and Delia, Johnny for Gabby, money for Mr. Seymour

Dames
Shelley Carroll aka Snow Top:

She was tall, voluptuously built. Her blue-white hair complemented the deep tan of her face and bare shoulders. She wore a daringly decollete white satin gown that clung to the generous curves and seemed to be having difficulty restraining full, thrusting breasts. A small waist hinted at full hips and long legs concealed by the fullness of her skirt. Her mouth was a vivid, moist crimson slash in the cocoa color of her face.

Gabby:

Gabby swivel-hipped across the floor, the abbreviated skirt giving full play to her long shapely legs; the sheer blouse giving ample evidence that the magnificence of her facade needed no artificial support. 

Delia Moore:

She was short, but the sloppily tied kimono couldn't conceal the fact that her breasts were full, her hips well rounded.

Blackouts
Two of them. First one is pretty plain with an evergreen black pool and exploding lights motives:

He never saw the blow that felled him. There was a whooshing sound, and lights exploded in the back of his head. He went to his knees, shook his head groggily in a desperate effort to dispel the black pool that was threatening to engulf him. A puddle of yellow light spilled onto the bedroom floor from the living room beyond. In it, he had a momentary impression of a man's black loafers with ornamental tassels. Before he could see more, the second blow slammed his face into the floor.

But the second one is a bit better. I liked that insect thing:

There was another roar from across the street. An insect stung Staccato on the side of the head. He heard the roar of thunder and his head started to spin. He was dimly aware of the sound of footsteps, a familiar voice that seemed miles away. He tried to focus his eyes on the doorway from which the shots had come, found his gun too heavy to lift. It seemed to drag him down. He was unaware that his face had hit the pavement.
 
Title: 
See 'hero'

Edition:  
eBook

Cover
see 'hero' and 'dames'

Notable cover blurbs: 
see 'hero'

Cool lines:  
[after having sex with Gabby]
"How do you feel, Johnny?" the redhead wanted to know.
"Like I wrestled an octopus. And lost."

“I heard what he said,” Waldo wagged his head. “I also heard they're saying they're going to shoot a man to the moon. That don't mean they know what they're talking about.”