Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Danger Is My Line (Stephen Marlowe, 1960)

I read Drum Beat - Madrid recently and quite liked it. Nice mix of a private eye mystery and spy thriller with a decent story (there are actually two of them) and a bit of a globetrotting plus some sex thrown in. This one follows such template but is far inferior.

Opening part, let's call it "P.I." section, that takes place in Washington is okay and, although pretty short, it sets up things nicely. There's a guy found not guilty of a murder who later confesses the crime and sells his story to some newspaper publisher. There's also a beautiful blonde and we don't need to wait long for the first corpse to appear. Didn't exactly grab me by the throat but it wasn't bad at all.

But then it just goes from pretty good to somewhat decent to kind of okay-ish to... a bit boring and towards the end it's just a struggle to get over the line.

Story is just too fragmented and numerous action scenes are too static. The damn thing hardly moves anywhere and when it does, it is usually in the wrong direction. And you know that writer wasn't very confident (dare I say skillful?) when in the middle of the novel you come across a two page recap which reminds the readers what the hell they are reading.

In short - disappointment. Stephen Marlowe and his Chester Drum post was long overdue on this blog but I wish that it would be for some other book. This one is memorable only for one of the most idiotic takes on the cold war (see 'Object of Desire' section of the facts below) and maybe also for some pretty ridiculous LSD trips descriptions.

2.5/5

Facts:

Hero
His eyes examined my card for the first time.  It said I was Chester Drum. I did confidential investigations, I had an office in the Farrell Building on F Street in downtown Washington and could be seen with or without appointment or any way at all.

Bad guy(s):
"He runs the show. You want a name for it, I'll give you one. He's the chief hatchetman for the Reds. He can make men dance on five continents."

Location
Washington, Reykjavik, Akureyri (400 km from Reykjavik), Stockholm

Body count:  
9 + Wally's dog Benards. It's interesting that the main villain survives in this one and gets away with a broken arm only.

Object of desire: 
Preventing a fishing war between Iceland and UK that Commies would like to exploit.

Huh? Let's see how this gets explained to our hero: 

"And Chet, if the key to world mastery, thanks to intercontinental missiles whose shortest route lies over the Pole, is the Arctic Ocean, then the key to the Arctic is Iceland, Now do you see where we stand?"

Makes sense now, doesn't it?

Dames
Maja Kolding, a small blonde with ice-blue eyes only a little colder than the Rhone glacier. Unfortunately, after the opening, she's mostly out of the picture.

Baroness Margaretha:
She was not quite  twice the size of Anita Ekberg, and all of it in splendid proportion... She was that kind of woman. Her eyes were green, her large breasts fought against the white wisp of the Bikini top, her hips, bare for a couple of devastating inches above the Bikini bottom, were broad and firm-fleshed, her long legs were as tanned as a beach-boy's and as shapely as a Grecian statue's. She was an insolent-eyed, thick-lipped sex-bomb of a woman, to end all insolent-eyed, thick-lipped sex-bombs. she was probably a Swede.

Stewardess Freya, a fine-boned, almost delicate. brunette:
It was as if there were two Freyas - the one pleasantly and lightly seductive who did all the talking, the other silent and deeper with an almost astonishing understated desire and need. Alone either one of them would have been a memorable occasion for a man who likes such memorable occasions. Together they could have stirred even an octogenarian.

Fine-boned (!!?!) part I understood but what the hell is an octogenarian? Let's ask Google:

So now we know. And when both Freyas finally have sex with Drum, the whole thing is described pretty - oh well - octogenarian-istic:

It was swift and explosive and then it built - a slow mounting fusion of lips, arms, legs, bodies - to magic.

And to conclude this section - there's a cool blurb on the cover saying: "She was a daydream turned into a nightmare - the most lethal beauty Chester Drum had ever met"

Nice one indeed although I'm not 100% sure whether it refers to the Baroness or to Freya.

Blackout
She held it [the rifle] by the metal barrel and was swinging it like a baseball bat. I dove for the ground and got halfway down before the heavy walnut stock took the top of my head off.

Peculiar thing about this one is that afterwards Drum still manages to walk for three hours before collapsing. But let us not question this too much since even "Dr. Ericksson says it sometimes happens like that, even with severe concussion.

Anyway, he loses his consciousnesses twice more but neither one is especially memorable:
Dark sky split and spun sickeningly a hundred and eighty degrees until it was beneath my feet, and I plunged in,

The blow drove me to my knees and a dark closed on my brain, squeezing out consciousness.

Title: 
One of the early Drum titles in the form of:

Murder/Trouble/Terror/Violence/Homicide/Danger/Death/...
is my 
Meat/Dish/Name/Trade/Business/Comrade/Pay/Job/...

I think it's fair to say that it is one of the coolest. With an exception of course of "Killers Are My Meat"!

Edition:  
Gold Medal #947, First Printing, January 1960

Cover
Iconic and super cool illustration by Barye Phillips (I think).

Cool lines
With her left hand she shut the door and leaned on it. That made her right-handed, because in her right hand, and pointing it where such things will be pointed, she held a small, snub-barreled revolver, a belly-gun.
The phone went on ringing. the shower went on hissing and drumming. I went on living - for a while.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Don't Call Tonight a.k.a. End of a Call Girl (William Campbell Gault, 1958)

Had a pretty shitty streak of book choices lately, ranging from an ultra boring and annoying Perry Mason to a couple of old British spy thrillers so I just wanted to get back on track with some classic PI stuff. Had read Gault's Million Dollar Tramp not long ago so I knew what to expect with this one.

And I did get the classical detective stuff that I'd wanted. But unfortunately, except for my favorite type of opening (PI hired by a damsel in distress in his shabby office), there's nothing really positive to report about this one.

I think the biggest problem is our protagonist. He's simply not very imaginative and totally lacks initiative. At times he gets so lost that instead of doing proper gumshoeing, he reads western paperbacks (cool) or goes playing golf (not fucking cool). On one occasion he simply goes out on a stakeout because "I had nothing else to do"?!? And even though he works with the police, he gets most of the information from newspapers and radio.

It gets worse. Or maybe better since it's a bit comical. When he finally gets a hold of the suspect who might be able to give him some useful clues, our man Joe fucks up the interrogation and subsequently gets so frustrated that he beats this poor schmuck so hard that the guy ends up in a hospital. Not exactly Marlowe-esque, right? So, due to his inefficient techniques, it takes him 150+ pages to get a vital clue. He goes for a lunch and accidentally runs into one of his fellow sleuthing colleagues who investigated one of Joe's current suspects a while ago in a totally unrelated case. During the chat he then opens Joe's eyes with an information that both him and police have somehow managed to overlook. Eureka! And again - not exactly Marlowe-esque...

A bit amateurish but still bearable and in a way amusing. But coupled with a corny romance that involves one of his suspects and topped with some lame self-pitying midlife crisis philosophy it proved to be a bit too much for me.

Not good, not bad, just another formulaic novel. I think I'm probably a bit pissed off and mean towards Joe because of the climax. You see, the twist has got to do something about homosexuality. I'm certainly no prude, don't care much about the political correctness and try not to judge old books from the modern perspective but at the same time reading about the queers, degenerates, half-people, etc, etc did leave a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. I mean, for fuck's sake - half people!?

Okay if you were reading Perry Mason prior to this one, but otherwise...

2.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
"My name is Puma," I said.
She stood in the doorway of her apartment and looked at me without interest. "Is that supposed to mean anything to me?"

Location:
L.A.

Body count: 2

Dames:
Jean Talsman, the call girl. Her madame Mrs. Dora Diggert. Her flatmate (and Joe's playmate) Mary Cefalu, the model. Mrs Rafferty, red headed secretary with a shady past.

Blackouts:
Redness flooded my brain, but I was still conscious as I went down, conscious and powerless. As soon as I went prone, they began to kick me.
The last thing I heard, before a shoe caught mu chin and brought oblivion, was the voice of the man whose throat I had held.
"God-damned snooping shamus," he was muttering.

Title: 
Have no idea where this "calling tonight" business came from. I'm pretty sure there was no fatal phone call in this one. The original American title "End of a Call Girl" is a bit more appropriate and in a way accurate too. The call girl in question survives this book but she's now engaged to be married so I guess it is the end of her as a call girl.

Edition:
Mayflower B-39, 1962

Cover:
Nice colors with nice Kim Novak lookalike blonde. Original one with Marilyn Monroe lookalike doesn't look bad either.

Cool lines: /

Monday, September 26, 2016

Dolls are Deadly (Brett Halliday, 1960)

Pretty cool opening. Shayne is in his office nursing a glass of his Hennessy cognac, working on the dilemma of putting out his cigarette. He opts for the hardest of the three available choices by actually swinging his long legs to the floor and thumbing it out in an ashtray. And then the trouble comes knocking on his office door. Only this time the trouble isn't shaped as some beautiful damsel in distress. The distressed one is a muscle-man of the local loan shark and there are two reasons for his disturbed mental state. Someone has sent him a couple of voodoo dolls!

After mere five pages (of pretty large print) our shamus throws the big man out and reminds his secretary (who stopped typing and looked up reproachfully):

"I draw the line, Lucy, at keeping a professional murderer from being murdered. I know the law doesn't, but I have a code of ethics which I don't think it would hurt the law to embrace."

And then off he goes fishing with his Cuban friend Sylvester!

Pretty funny, I liked it. But in the very next chapter things start to go downhill a bit. It turns out that his little Cuban captain is being exploited by three shady characters and it doesn't take long before he ends up under his ship tied to an anchor. Which is not that good. I mean, obviously it's pretty fucking bad for Sylvester but what bothered me was that personal crap got involved and I don't like that in P.I. stories. However, on a positive note, at least it's not family crap which is the worst kind of personal crap.

But I'm digressing. So, we have two unrelated cases that our sleuth needs to solve. Not much of a spoiler to reveal that it turns out they are not unrelated. Nothing unusual of course about that, it follows well established and proven formula and we read such stuff all the time. What is worth mentioning, is that these two affairs are linked with a sheer coincidence. Protagonists of both sub-plots simply attend to Madame Swoboda's mystic seances.

Unlike coincidences combined with a personal/family shit is normally a recipe for disaster (sometimes for laughter) but in this one it still works. The story is quite complex and it culminates with a cool twist in an almost Ross Macdonald-ish type of tragedy.

I also liked the style. This is one of the first Shayne novels that were ghostwritten (according to this website by Walter Ryerson Johnson) and it seems to me that the author tried to capture the original style of the 1940s and in my opinion pulled it off more than well (check out the 'dames' and 'cool lines' of the facts below). But at the same time it has to be said that it also feels like it was penned out pretty quickly without much of reviewing and/or rewriting. There are some scenes that simply don't make much sense and are probably just some leftover ideas that the author forgot to drop when trying to reach his word count before the deadline. I mean, why would Shayne take his secretary to an interview with his client and then leave her waiting in his car?

Charming. The coolest Shayne I can remember of.

4/5

Facts:

Hero:
"Michael Shayne?" Ed repeated quickly. He looked at Shayne, as did Slim and Vince, from the wheelhouse. "You mean," Ed said with unsteadiness in his voice, "you're Michael Shayne, the private detective?"
"The same," Sylvester said proudly. "My friend, he is famous everywhere."
"Well, I'm damned!" Ed smoothed his angel's halo of graying hair. "Miami's best-known detective on our boat. Wait'll I tell the folks back home."

Bad guys:
It was rumored that he had known Lucky Luciano before Luciano was deported to Italy, and had since visited with the dope and vice czar there. However, as yet no crimes of consequence had been hung on De Luca by local or federal lawmen, for he was cunning and capable as well as ruthless.

Location:
Miami

Body count: 3

Dames:
There's Clarissa Milford with a smooth golden head... tall, but her bones were light... she gave the impression of delicate fragility... she seemed to be one of those rare feminine creatures without imperfection.

But the real star is the mystic Madame Swoboda. Check out her anatomical details: 
...ample and worldly breasts, extraordinary long lashes, slim fingers, aquiline nose. Her features were regular, her skin clear and fair, her face beautiful and tantalizing. 

Blackouts:/

Title: 
Someone is sending around voodoo dolls and some of the recipients end up dead.

Edition:
Jove Books, May 1989

Cover:
Some horribly generic photograph so I'm also including the original McGinnis illustration. Far from his best but still million light years in front of this.

Cool lines:
In any case, since murder unaccountably was breathing down the necks of some people, a talk with Sylvester was strongly indicated.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Coxman #25: The Penetrator (Troy Conway, 1971)

Who's Afraid of The Big Bad Russian Wolf?
Certainly not Rod Damon!

Unlike my first two Coxmans, this one doesn't start in his cabinet at Wisconsin college with our stud "studying" the species of opposite sex and being interrupted by his superior. Instead, the entire opening chapter is dedicated to introduction of his soon-to-be adversary Countess Marie Antoinetta Rubinov. You can read more about her in the facts below, but for now - just to keep your interest - let me just add that she has had over seventeen thousand men and was "mounted" by a heat-crazed horse on her tenth birthday! Yes - welcome to the crazy and sexed world of Troy Conway!

She is briefed about her assignment while being fucked with a dildo for several hours. The whole thing (I mean the assignment of course) is a bit odd but it involves a British super-spy called Penetrator. I think she is supposed to track him down and use her female charms to convince him into changing sides. Or something like that.

It's pretty unclear and as funny as it is, it doesn't really push the plot anywhere. So Mr. Avallone switches over to a proven formula. In the second chapter we do find Rod in his Wisconsin University cabinet, working on one of his sex theories with an assistance of his student Sarena. And being interrupted by Walrus-Moustache - Party-pooper, Killjoy, Bad News and Joe Btsplk Number One.

Rod's briefing is more conventional and his assignment also includes the mysterious Penetrator but there's another problem he must deal with. He needs to find out as much as possible about the "cobalt special - a granddaddy of all bombs".

So Rod is off to Moscow and this is where the plot basically ends before it has even really begun. For the next hundred pages or so there's nothing but fucking. And it's cool but it does get repetitive. There are several attempts to revive the story (dead spy, assassination attempt) but they don't amount to much so Mr. Avallone just wraps the whole thing up with a couple of surprising twists (for a lack of better expression) and a little reminder that this is not a spy story anyway.

And also tells us in his unique way to go fuck ourselves in case we expected one:

Spying just isn't all that it's cracked up to be.
But sex is.
And it's the only crack in the world that I, Rod Damon, will ever be interested in.
Local Russian spy rings, please copy!
And why you're at, go screw yourselves.
Da, da!

Da, da?

3/5

Facts:

Hero:
You see, I'm kind of the male Rubinov of the West when you get right down to it. A pure born satyr, first class. Only thing is I'm not sick about it. It's no hang-up.
More a hang-down, you could say. Ahem.

Bad guys:
"And who is the General?"
Him I hadn't heard of. Aside from Motors, Electric, etcetera.
Walrus-Moustache smiled at me almost fondly.
"I hope you never meet him, Damon. Few people that we know have. And lived to tell the tale. A man of mystery. A physical giant of over six feet six. Handsome as a statue, older than time itself. He drove a tank in World War I and led armies in World War II. And now he is the head of anything Russian that requires violence, liquidation and aggressive action. He is their executioner, as it were.

Driving tanks and leading the armies but yet only a few people have seen him?

Location
"Go ahead. Hit me with it. Tibet? Nope, Alaska? The moon-" 
"No, Damon. Russia."
I opened my eyes and in spite of myself, I felt a quickening of interest. You see, lately I've been on a Russian kick. Culturally, I'm kind of stuck on Redland. What with the Moiseyev Ballet, their opera, all those great-looking ballerinas and busty peasant dolls - in fact, I'd been toying with doing a thesis on Russian females. You know - Better Bed Than Red - or something like that.


Body count: 2
Not counting a dead CIA spy William Watts and a bunch of scientists that crashed down in Russian foothills in some deluxe private charter jet. But none of this has nothing to do with the operation Penetrator. At least I couldn't make a connection.

Anyway. As usual, let's rather go through Rod's sexual conquests. More fun.

Sarena #1
As mentioned, his student Sarena is the first one. He deflowers her and she comes back the very same night for more action (she couldn't study after THE experience). But she's not that inexperienced (she was natural) because she starts the foreplay with sticking her tongue in Rod's ass! Once finished, she concludes that "You are not to be believed! I thought you were a mirage!"

Nosha 
Upon his arrival in Moscow, the commies send a call girl Nosha to his room. This "steamrolling female tank" fucks him savagely but then he gives her the full treatment (I reamed it, steamed it and dry-cleaned it.) that includes a couple of his famous "sex ploys". And this is where we get the only Avallone LOL/WTF trademark moment. Check this:

Things got so worked up I once mistook her right ear for the natural target but she didn't howl or pull back but considered it another innovation until I explained my muscular mistake to her.

You get it!? I almost missed it the first time and had to reread and decipher it. Anyway, after they are finished, she just utters "You are not bad, Comrade. Not bad at all. In  fact, you are in a class by yourself."

Orgy at the Smirnski School of Psychology with "the finest scholastic specimens"
Rod is undercover in Russia as a visiting professor at Smirnski School of Psychology where he teaches cadets of Cosmonaut Space Agency his "Sex and Weightlessness" seminar. You know, to make sure they know how to fuck in outer space. On the very first lecture there's a brief introduction (8 Ivans and 4 quintessential babes) that ends with:

"All right! Now, select your partners. Two males to one female. And let's go. Fornicate! As best or however you can. And I warn you - I'm watching - I'm talking notes - and I'll ask questions later."

Ina the Ballerina
On his way back to the hotel he runs into Ina (torrid tomato)... who btw is the only Russian person he knows... and they end up doing the Wanton Waltz the whole night:

"Ah, Rodski - " she murmured happily as we careened around her bedroom floor. "You are Nijinsky, Nureyev - with something extra added - what drive you have! What extension!"

In limbo
For the next three days Rod is just waiting for something to happen and keeps his rod busy with spending his days with students and nights with Nosha.

Six Three
This idle period ends with an appearance of Six Three, his contact agent. Who has a little anatomical problem:
"I am very large down there, you see, It takes a big man to fill me, As you will see should you take on my problem."

He of course takes her problem on sooner as he can say Shostakovitch and two pages later we are treated with this unforgettable line:  
IT FITS! GREAT JUMPING TROTSKY - IT FITS!". 

To which he replies with yet another one of those inner-monologues spoken in Avallone language: 
"Of course, it did. Pooh-pooh and tut-tut."

And the scene ends with her simple:
"Comrade Demon - I love you - "

Rod-Manya history-maker
Everything until this moment was just a built up to Rod's encounter with the Countess aka the Silver Hair aka Manya. So when this historical moment arrives, it is first properly introduced:

BOOMMMMMMMMMM!
No, that's not an elephant breaking wind.
That's the sound of Rod Damon and Silver Hair meeting on even ground in the dark of a bedroom. A Rod-Manya history-maker.
A most historic occasion in the annals of the Coxman.

Then it goes on for several pages in such manner:
"- ohmylenintrotskymarxgodddd - " you are a man among men - truly, you are a might bull - ohmylord - againagain - and againagainagainagainagainagainagainagainnnnnnnaaahhhhh!"
"You're repeating yourself, Manya."
"Of course I am! And I want you to repeat yourself! A dozen times over - oh, Comrade - a whole troop of infantrymen have never given me so much pleasure - you are a marvel!"
"Thank you."
"You are welcome - come - do that once more - I tingle all over - and the itch is driving me insannnnnnnnnnne!"

But it suddenly totally anticlimaxes when Rod realizes that she's in fact nymphomaniac. He's appalled (She was sick for the stick, all right. And those are the worst kind!) and even gets pretty fucking mean to her:
"My baby shivers," she murmured. "Is Manya hurting him?"
"Not a chance, baby. Shut up and suck!"

Tumultuous orgy
Next day he's half dead after being ravaged the whole night by Three Six and Countess so Comrade Proffesor's lecture at the institute is about reviving a dead man with sex. Tumultuous orgy follows.

Manya's punishment
And it was there, I swear by all I hold dear, that I perpetrated the most incredible love act of my life.
...Even Fay Wray got a better break than she did

In short: he fucks her to death.

Sarena #2
Similar to Had any Lately? this one too finishes with the same girl that he started with. Once he's back in the States, she demonstrates what she has learned from his books while he was away.

Dames:
Marie Antoinetta Rubinov. In a (very) condensed summary: the swingingest lady this side of a Playboy centerfold,... the most rapacious Russian nymphomaniac since Catherine the Great put a whole regiment of Cossacks through their nighttime paces,... Vavavavoom!... some mad artist's horniest fantasy...even a bishop with his Bible would burn with a fervor not precisely religious... a body of creamy white sculpture that Michelangelo might have chipped out of pure Carrara marble if he hadn't been one of the wrong kinds of boys... big, beautiful breasts with scarlet nipples that look like a bloody sacrifice on the snowy white mounds they adorn... perfect Venus... 

And so on and on... And on and fucking on. But if you still haven't grasped the idea, there's her whole dossier on page 9 (interesting reading). In essence: Marie Antoinetta Rubinov, nymphomaniac extraordinaire, was the greatest spy in Russia's history.

And there's a reference to some fantastic beauty who specializes in sado-maschoism named (check this!!!) Legget E. Split from "Coxman #9: The Man-Eater". I guess I know now which Coxeman book to pick up next.

Blackouts:
He blacks out during the bomb blast when he's about to join the orgy #1.

Title: 
"Ahhhhhhh, Boris," Marie cooed, "and what is my assignment, pet?" She kept grinding away with her thighs, like a coffee-maker.
"Stop The Penetrator!" Boris panted, exerting himself mightily behind his artificial manhood.
..."- And who is that - Rod Damon of America?"
As you can see, my fame precedes me. The world knows me...

"No, no, Manya - not he, though he is bad enough - this is a British superspy. The Penetrator -"...born in London... raised in America... has a fluent command of most Russian dialects... has been able to penetrate the deepest Russian military secrets for M2 of Britain and the CIA... genius... 

But Rod does know him well:
I knew all about The Penetrator. Someone who made James Bond seem like a kid playing with an erector set. Heard of him? Has the Lone Ranger heard of Tonto? Has Dick heard about Liz? Does Raquel Welch know that every man in the world wants to tag?

Although he's not very impressed a couple of pages later when he's shown Penetrator's photo: 
"He looks like Woody Allen in advanced stages of tuberculosis."

Edition:
Paperback Library 73-125

Cover
Rod with some hot Brigitte Bardot look-alike.

Cool lines
I'm telling you, you learn something new every day. In every way. With every lay.

He said nothing, merely grunting, but he did shove very hard behind her and she felt every delectable inch of that delightful instrument [=dildo] probing deeper into her soul.
"My sainted ass -" she screamed dropping exhausted on the bed, physically spent and battered.

"Shut up," I snarled, "and let's fornicate!"

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Masters of Noir - Volume 1 (1953-1959, published in 2010)

Great collection that starts slowly but gets better with each story.

Identity Unknown (Jonathan Craig, first published in Manhunt, August 1954)

Nice police procedural. All it takes for our detective is a pair of victim's expensive shoes to establish her identity and consequently her killer. I liked its sharp style. No need for (too much) drama and emotions in a short story, right?

The Girl behind the Hedge (Mickey Spillane, first published in Manhunt, October 1953)

Seems like a logical decision for the editors of this compilation to shift a gear up with Spillane to follow up the pretty plain opening story. You know - throw in a bit of a sex and violence. No, sir.

I really don't like writing this and I think it is slowly beginning to look I have something against good old Mickey but this one is really bad. Instead of private eyes, cops, gangsters, dolls etc here we have a moral story about a couple of Wall Street brokers. One good (?) and the other (surprise, surprise) not so good. A real asshole in fact. Some time ago this asshole stole the good one's fiance so the poor sucker then masterminded a demonic revenge plan by making the asshole desperately fall in love with a mentally disabled girl and killing himself upon realizing this.

And yes, that's it. Rings a bell? I forgot most about the classical adventures I read back in my primary school days but this certainly resembles one of those Count of Monte Cristo romantic revenge plots. So I don't know, I sure hope that this is the case and that Spillane was fooling around and/or paying an hommage to some old master. But at least he himself stayed the classical Spillane as we know - one of his two protagonists calls this unfortunate girl a "hopeless imbecile". Fucking hell, what was this guy's problem??

Carrera's Woman (Ed McBain writing as Richard Marsten, first published in Manhunt, February 1953)

More like a western but still pretty cool. Bad guy vs good guy & woman playing cat and mouse game in the scorching Mexican sun. Memorable for avoiding the obvious twist at the end.

Butcher (Richard S. Prather, first published in Manhunt, June 1954)

Can a good serial killer hunt story be squeezed into a short story? Probably not. But can a mediocre serial killer hunt story full of incredible coincidences be squeezed into a short story? Yes, definitely - this one is a living proof. Not all bad and with some okay moments and a decent twist at the end. Also nice to see Shell Scott being a tough guy and not just some douchebag babbling about women.

Look Death in the Eye (Lawrence Block, first published in Saturn Web Detective Story Magazine, April 1959)

Another serial killer story! And it took exactly ten minutes to answer the above question and reject my hypothesis. Yes, it is definitely possible to write a good short serial killer story although this is not about the hunt, it is about the hunter instead.

It's Lawrence Block doing his Jill Emerson-ish erotic thing. But this time I was prepared and knew what to expect... and surprisingly I liked it. Liked it a lot to be honest. Hot, a bit crazy and also little nasty! Decided to check out his recent The Girl with the deep Blue Eyes.

On a Sunday Afternoon (Gil Brewer, first published in Manhunt, January 1957)

Sexually repressed wife and her cowardly (impotent?) husband going to a family picnic after the Sunday mass where they are attacked by a gang of juvenile delinquents. Cool stuff by the master of sexy psychological thrillers.

Frame (Frank Kane, first published in Manhunt, December 1954)

Now we are getting somewhere! This one is a proper P.I. mystery with mobsters, dames, stolen loot and even a decent body count. Great story too, kept me guessing right until the end.

Double (Bruno Fischer, first published in Manhunt, June 1954)

My favorite one of the collection. The bitter and woman-hating cop is fixated by the idea that the killer is his cheating ex-wife lookalike. Savage stuff, my only little complaint would be that the apologies at the end are needless!

As I Lie Dead (Fletcher Flora, first published in Manhunt, February 1953)

It's hot and two young lovers sit by the lake. She's dreaming about Acapulco but his mind is elsewhere:

I saw that Grandfather had reached the raft. He was sitting on the far side, his back to us, legs dangling in the water. He’d made it out there in good time. For an old man, damn good time. He was strong, in spite of his fat belly. It didn’t look like he was ever going to die.

Guess what happens next?  You are right - grandfather won't be swimming much in the future. But that is just the beginning of the story. There will be blackmail and murder and betrayal. Excellent stuff, a bit depressing but a great choice for a closing story.

3.5/5

Facts:

Body count
1 + 1 (added reluctantly since Wall Street yuppies shouldn't really count right?) + 1 + 1 with at least 3 victims + 1 with a bunch of other victims (unfortunately those eyeballs count is not specified) + 0 + 3 + 2 + 4 = 17

Dames:
Linda from "Carrera's Woman" is pretty cool (or should I say hot?):

There was sweetness in her kiss, and an undercurrent of danger, a pulsing emotion that knifed through me like an electric shock. She pressed against me, and her body was soft and womanly, and I forgot the marks of her nails on my arms and face, forgot that she could be as deadly as a grizzly. She was a kitten now, soft and caressing, and her breath was in my ears, and the movement of her body was quick and urgent. I lifted her, the .45 still in my hand, and carried her to the deep shadows of the rocks.

And cousin Cindy from "As I Lie Dead":

She was gold all over in the various shades that gold can take. Even her brown eyes, behind dark glass in white harlequin frames, were flecked with gold.

Edition: eBook

Cool lines

From "Carrera's Woman":

I hesitated before answering. “Ten G’s is a lot of money, baby.”
“I’m a lot of woman,” she answered.

From "Frame:

He debated the advisibility of walking around back, decided to knock.

He slammed his fist against the big man’s mouth. There was the sound of crunching teeth. The big man went staggering backward and fell across a table.
“You won’t be needing teeth where you’re going.”

From "Double":

I growled, “Don’t flatter yourself.”
“Shouldn’t I?” She got off the chaise longue and ran her hands sensuously over her half-naked body. “Look at me, Gus. Don’t you think I have a right to flatter myself?”

From "As I Lie Dead":

I took the gun out of my pocket and pointed it at him, and then I saw what I’d been living to see. I saw the smooth assurance go sick in his eyes and fear come flooding in. When I’d seen that, I’d had everything from him I’d ever want, so I shot him. I shot him where I hated him most. Right in his pretty face. 

“Yes,” I said. “We’ll go away together, honey. I’ve got our tickets right here in the gun. One way and a long way.”

Monday, August 22, 2016

Bedroom Boulevard (Jim Dobbins, 1967)

Bought this one in a pack with some other books on eBay. Had no idea who Jim Dobbins was but I liked the cover and was hoping to get some quality sleaze. Surprisingly it turned out to be quite okay although totally un-sleazy (btw - is this even the right expression? Chrome's spellchecker doesn't underline it in red). Hadn't planned to write a post about it but after reading it I googled (again, no red underlining?) the name of Jim Dobbins and the search came up with virtually nothing. And I do think it deserves at least a short note that will immortalize Mr (or is/was it Mrs/Miss?) Dobbins on the blogosphere.

The story is built on a very simple premise. Our hero, marine on a medical leave from Vietnam, comes to LA to recuperate from his arm wound and to have few cold beers and hot women. The whole novel is pretty short so it doesn't take him long to get involved with the keeper of the motel where he's staying and also to accidently bump into his cheating ex-wife. To make things more interesting, there's also a gang of juvenile delinquents lead by lady #1's nephew and shady husband of the lady #2.

But all this doesn't really matter. The whole thing is just a pretext to throw in as much sex scenes as possible because our Kirk gets lucky in a biblical sense with no less than four different women. With two of them on multiple occasions.

And somehow curious thing about it is that I still had a feeling that it was leading somewhere. I mean, even as flawed with inconsistencies and coincidences as the story is I would still categorize it as a crime/mystery and not (just) sex/romance. Just too bad its climax is disappointing.

But this too is pretty much irrelevant. The reason why Bedroom Boulevard is memorable is its style. It's extremely conservative and it feels like it was written by someone who was assigned to write a fuck novel but was too shy and had opted to write this weird "erotic" stuff instead.

I'll give you an example. Kirk has no problem with picking up a girl but is later totally shocked when she gives him a blow job. Nothing kinky, no S&M stuff whatsoever, just a good old plain fellatio in a backseat of the car. Don't get me wrong - he's not appalled or anything. And when she goes down on him for the second time (in two minutes!) he even pulls and twists her hair but because she doesn't react with a yelp or cry, he concludes that:

How perverted can you get, I wondered. Not only was her sexual desire twisted, she was a damn masochist too.

Huh? Weird stuff indeed. Puritanic sleaze?

Kind of short but not sweet. Would gladly check Dobbins' other stuff but apparently there is none other :)

3/5

Facts:

Hero
See front and back covers for detailed (and not very accurate) description. But must say I kind of liked the guy. Just an ordinary kid who is a bit mixed up and keeps confusing love with sex.

Location
L.A.

Body count: 0

Dames
Karen, the ex-wife (the devil) and Joyce the next wife (the saint). 

Blackouts:
He loses his consciousness almost every time he comes. But that poetic (starts went off, just like the fourth of July) crap doesn't count. However there is one proper blackout when he gets beaten by a gang of juvenile delinquents, Nothing special (they kick him in the balls), but I really liked the way he comes out of it:

But I could see the angel, not clear, but I could see her white robe and long hair. But something was wrong. She couldn't be an angel, because that meant I was in heaven. I just never lived that kind of life, and besides, I had been told too many times to go to hell.

Title: 
See back cover.

Edition:
All Star #127

Cover
Nice and sexploitative as we like them, right?

Cool lines: /

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Too French and Too Deadly (Henry Kane, 1955)

After Peter Chambers the author it's now time for Pete Chambers the protagonist. A year ago I had mixed feelings about the Death of a Flack but this time around it was easy to reach a verdict. This one pretty much sucks I'm afraid.

It starts with an entire page of Chambers' whining about sacrificing his mustache just to impress beautiful and desirable Carlotta with dark and dreamy eyes. Of course I couldn't know it at the time but this was a warning about how things will proceed. From the very first page every single description of a scene, character or action takes ages... and our sleuth's constant "witty" wisecracking and sexists remarks doesn't help one bit.

As annoying as all this is, it is still bearable comparing to the story. As we all know, red herring is the most used plot device in mystery novels but in this one it reaches unprecedented levels. More than once the sequence of events doesn't make much sense chronologically (unless Chambers has at least one identical twin brother) and occasional introductions of "classical" clues are almost pathetic. I mean - do people really write next day appointment reminders on match boxes? Would you for example really pin down a short incriminating list under the Chinese light in your living room?

Enough bitching. In this mess anyone could be guilty so it's a bit ironic that the actual solution doesn't quite make sense. Henry Kane was just no Ross Macdonald.

A bit disappointing. I think it will take me at least another year to pick up another Kane's novel.

2/5

Facts:

Some of the facts are incomplete because I lost half of my notes. For all the Blogger users out there: do not press Ctrl+Z while editing your posts. It won't undo your last change...

Hero:
"A wise-guy peeper," Frenchie aid. "Yeah, I know him awright. A smart-type guy. Makes with the big words and makes with a lot of them. A sharp-shooter guy."

Bad guys:
Carl Dinello was the upper uppercrust of the undercrust. Carl Dinello was one of the ten most powerful men, without portfolios, in the world. It was open knowledge that Carl Dinello was the remote octopus whose tentacles held control over all illegal gambling in the United States....

And like everything else it goes on and on... Funny thing is that after this introduction Carl Dinello doesn't get mentioned again. Which is probably just as well since I think that the whole thing is confusing enough without any "remote octopuses".

Location: New York
Body count: 3

Object of desire: 
"Gold," Horace said.
The Lieutenant said, "Pardon?"
I said, "What?"
"Gold," Horace said.
"Gold?" Parker fumed, "Gold? What's gold?"
"This," Horace laid the bar on Parker's desk and pointed a long finger. "Gold."
"This?" Parker shot querulous eyes at me. "This is gold?"
"Gold," Horace said. "Gold ingot."
"Ingot?" I said. "What's ingot?"
"Bullion," Horace said.
"And what's bullion?" Parker barked. "Sounds like soup."

Dames:
"A dame, I hear."
"Carlotta Cain. And what a dame. Brains, class, and putting it mildly, gorgeous."

Edie Rogers - Flame-red hair and round brown eyes and a small red mouth that was puckered like a blister. She was small, with quick movements, and a figure that had launched a thousand tips. Her breasts were round, firm, pointed and protruding; her arms full, her hands and feet small.

Once more, it then proceeds for another two paragraphs with all her anatomical details and details about her wardrobe but I'm sure you've got the picture.

There's also french alcoholic beauty Carlotta (the only cool and interesting character btw) and let us not forget his "short, squat, ugly and wonderful" secretary Miranda.

Blackouts:  /

Title: 
A bit of a spoiler.

Edition:
Avon #672, First Edition. One of those in the small format with tiny print.

Cover
Nice illustration of a damsel in distress. There are two redheads in this one but since she looks a bit french I think she's Carlotta and not Edie.

Cool lines
Counsel for the defense was panting like an asthmatic hoofer announcing the next act.

I came up out of my chair like I had a wasp gone waspish in my back pocket.


I was more fatigued than a dealer in Vegas working over-time on New Year's.


I tore out its [car trunk compartment] insides like a taxidermist with a deadline working on the carcass of a buffalo.


Tom Reeves bounced around like a pogo stick that had been crossed with a Mexican jumping bean.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Murder Is For Keeps (Peter Chambers, 1961)

After a sort of a needless prologue this one starts as they all should. With a beautiful dame walking in a P.I.'s office and hiring our hero to do a job. No family crap, no favors for the best friend, no ghosts from the past etc. Which is cool, it's been a while since I've read a straightforward sleuth novel.

And it proceeds in this classical tradition. We have a jazz musician and mobsters (owning an illegal gambling joint of course) together with their ruthless thugs. There's a powerful politician (his widow to be precise) and even more powerful billionaire, there are more dames (most of them in distress) and a mandatory police inspector breathing down the neck of our protagonist. Also a sinister backstory involving heroin and a serial killer. I'm sure you get the idea...

It's okay but it lacks a bit of a spark. Not that it's dull or (too) predictable, it's just flat and straight-forward with a story that could use a twist or two. And speaking of twists - I think that the author actually had one planned but had eventually dropped it. I'm talking about the Lois and her involvement with Vic. Towards the end it is established that she's in love with the mobster but this all gets dropped and forgotten and then the book even ends with her taking our hero for a romantic weekend to her cottage by some lake. I guess Mr Phillips was nearing his deadline so he just wrapped it up. And so I'll do the same.

3.5/5

Facts:

Hero: Mark Preston, "A Ruthless Private Eye":

"Let me tell you something, Miss Freeman. It may hep you understand. I'm a private investigator-"
"A policeman?" she barged in.
"No. Not a policeman. Private cop. I get a licence but no badge. I have clients. People come to me with things that trouble them. I try to put the things right. You've probably heard of the breed, without having encountered a specimen before. Encounter one now." I tapped myself on the chest importantly.

"On, no," he groaned. "Not you. You know this joker?"
He turned to the first man and indicated me me with his head.
"No, I don't."
"Well take a look and try to remember him in future. The name is Preston. He calls himself a private investigator. With him that means he gets a free hand to meddle in police business and make himself a nuisance all around."

Bad guys: 
Crime is like any other business. The big guys, the winners, have to possess the some kind of ruthless purpose they would need to succeed in a more acceptable profession. You don't get to be a Toreno just by exercise of muscle, there's more to it than that, plenty more.

Location:
Fictional town of Monkton, California. Located south of San Francisco and three hours away from San Diego.

Body count:  
4 + several victims of the "psychotic killer" back on the east coast several years ago.

Dames:
Moira Chase with a full "thrusting figure and dark, luminous eyes". Her stepdaughter jazz-loving Ellen whose "whole body was just emerging from the schoolgirl into the woman... with the impatient young breasts". And finally Lois Freeman - "She was beautiful, exciting, self-possessed. She was trouble."

Blackouts
A great black blanket floated down and I pulled it over me.

Title: 
A bit silly, isn't it?

Edition:  
Monarch Books #428, April 1964

Cover
A bit of a mess, it seems more appropriate for some horror book. Credited to Lou Marchetti

Cool lines
I took another sip of the scotch. It was the kind they all pretend they are in the ads.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Baroness #6 - Sonic Slave (Paul Kenyon, 1974)

Instead of the usual hero introductory opening chapter this one kicks off with establishing the threat. A lonesome rider arrives to some god forsaken village/oasis in the middle of the desert and finds all of its population dead. None of the victims has visible wounds but they are all bloated and starting to decay. And right away we get the first LOL moment. Because I don't think you have to be some badass secret agent to figure it out that those unfortunate souls were killed with some sort of a nasty WMD and to get a fuck away as soon and as fast as possible. Instead this idiot takes his time to unpack his gear and starts sending Morse (!!!) encoded messages to his headquarter. Sure enough, body count meter starts rolling.

So we need to wait a chapter to meet the Baroness. And it's well worth waiting. She buys a horse for a million bucks at a high society auction in Kentucky and then fucks some aristocrat. In his stable! And why? To make this guys's stud horny so it would fuck her recent acquisition!

Great stuff, I was hooked! Unfortunately it doesn't keep up with sustaining such madness and loses lots of that initial momentum as it progresses. You can read all the details on the ultimate source for Men's adventure novels at Glorious Trash and there are some useful links on the author's website so I'll just list some of my major likes and dislikes.

Our heroine herself is of course uber cool but she should be more bitchy! All the aristocratic and modelling crap somehow doesn't fit her although some of those "darlings" are quite funny. It needs to be said that the villains in this one definitely steal the show from her. Pair of them is so delightfully insane that I decided to add the 'bad guys' section to the facts. Have been considering this for some time and these two loonies are perfect for its inaugural edition. So scroll down a bit for details.

Next cool thing - Gadgets! And more Gadgets! And even more crazy Gadgets!

  • Wearing computer (=computer that one wears) with millions MOSFET devices built in. MOSFET? Metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor! And the crazy part is that they actually exist. To save you some googling, you can find the specs here. Considering this was published 40 years before iWatch invention, dare I say that Sonic Slave was ahead of its time?
  • Silent microphones (they pick up vibrations of larynx). In order to use them, Baroness and her team need to "subvocalize"
  • Radio transceiver built inside of mouth (with saliva used for its powering!) 
  • Drugs like Puromycin (erases the immediate memories before they become permanent) and Etorphine (ten thousand times more powerful than morphine). Not surprisngly by now (and little worrying) these too actually seem to exist!
  • Ultrasonic buzz saw

And what is not so good? I think it's too long. The whole thing about her team could be cut out. And it should have been since they are just another stereotypical group of beautiful people skilled in various deadly techniques but they don't contribute anything substantial to the story. Also that whole hunting affair should have been told in a single chapter instead of taking 25 pages.

Funny enough that I can't quite decide about the sex. There should be more of it (after that stable stud arousing thing she fucks just one more guy) but at the same time scenes are too long  They both take several pages and although language is pretty crude and the author certainly doesn't shy away from the occasional fuck or cock, the style is far from sleaze or porn. Wikipedia describes it as "graphically poetic pulp tradition" which I think it's accurate enough for stuff like this:

Her melonlike bizaz was digging into his chest, and the little man between his legs was stretching and waking up.

[After already "climbing in the pulpit four times so far"] she reached between his legs and found the axe handle sprouting there... and after a couple of pages... she reached down for the torpedo shape protruding between her legs

But all in all, great fun and I will most certainly check the others of the series. Wish they were a bit cheaper goddamn!

I'm off now to sign the petition to make these novels available as e-Books.

4/5

Facts:

Hero
Penelope St. John-Orsini aka Penny aka The Baroness. Code name The Key

The Baroness was a compelling beauty whose face had been seen on all the major fashion magazines. A glossy black mane framed wide sculptured cheekbones, enormous emerald eyes, an exquisite nose and a generous mouth with strong white showing now in a dazzling smile. She was a tall, supple-bodied woman in her early thirties, with broad shoulders, tapering torso and flared hips. There was an athletic bounce to all her movements.

Most women would have struggled, or tried to kick the man behind them. But the Baroness had a set of of one hundred and twenty-four possible reflexes programmed into her nervous system to deal with the problem of being grabbed from behind. The basal ganglia in her brain automatically chose the correct response for the situation.

"The sheik tells me you're bad woman," he said.
"Positively wicked, darling," she said.

Bad guys:
Octave Le Sourd is a crazy/genius scientist with ultra hearing capabilities who wears a bat in his hair. Yes, you did read that correctly. I'm not sure how it is possible but he indeed wears a fucking bat in his hair!

But the undisputed star of craziness and extravaganza is the Emir of Ghazal. Horny bastard with 347 children. With Terry Gilliam-esque thrones (one is converted dentist chair and the other is the golf cart; both of course covered with priceless jewels). With a couple of dwarf servants wearing diapers (wtf ?!??) and turbans. With an obsession for his pet falcon named Fakim. When Baroness kills this darn bird, poor devastated Emir feasts one day in honor of its memory and then declares a nation day of mourning!

Pure quality. Unforgettable!

Location
Briefly in Kentucky and Rome but then it moves to a fictional middle-east country of Ghazal.

Body count:  
Can only do a rough estimation. Not counting:

  • entire populations of the two small "mud" villages 
  • approximately 50 death-row convicts killed on the hunt
  • a bunch of tribesmen that Baroness takes on with a fucking tank!
  • Mad Max like desert battle where 3 tanks, several jeeps and even 2 Phantom Jets are destroyed. And there's a twist - during the battle all sounds are muted! (don't ask, it's a long story and too technical for us mere mortals to understand)
  • Fakim the falcon

And assuming that small tank commander has one gun operator and that Ghazal's chief jailer has three assistants we come to the grand total of 30 individual kills.

Object of desire: 
"You'll control the world's major oil supply. Europe and the United States will be at your mercy."
....
"Your secret agreement with Communist China will make them think twice."
...
"Yes. And when things have died down after a year or two, I'll wipe out Israel... The true successor of Mohammed."

Dames
see 'hero'

Unconscious moment
There was a blinding pain in her head, and then darkness, as final and complete as the end of the universe.

Title: 
Sonic part has to do with the sound based doomsday device. Slave part doesn't make much sense.

Edition:  
Pocket Books, November 1974

Cover
see 'hero'. Illustration by Hector Garrido. 

Cool lines
Almost, the blood drained from her face gave her away. She forced it back into her skin by concentrating on one of the simpler Yoga dharana exercises... She forced her mind into another Yoga channel, pranayama, and felt her breathing slow down. She was going to have to be fatalistic. If she was blown, she was blown.

She kicked him in the balls. But he didn't have any balls. The kick that would have disabled a normal man just left him standing there, looking slightly greenish.

"This is a knife that gelded my father," he said proudly. "He was chief eunuch before me, in harem of Emir's father."

"It's always nice to be mutilated by a family heirloom," she said dryly.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

It's My Funeral (Peter Rabe, 1957)

One of the best blackmail stories I can remember of. This nasty "business" is usually used to trigger some other plot but in this one it stays in the center all the way through. There's no single villain - instead we have a bunch of amoral assholes ranging from some sleazy "talent scouting agent" to the studio exec and they all want to have a piece of our unfortunate damsel in distress. And there's nobody standing between them and her but our hero. Who himself is a bit shady character...

Smart and well conceived but unfortunately a bit sloppy in its execution. Without going into details, let me just describe how our hero breaks the case. Ella was filmed naked by a hidden camera in some hotel in the middle of nowhere (half a day driving from L.A.) several years ago. By some divine intervention Daniel's new flame Tess is now singing in that very same hotel and staying in that very same suite. So when he comes to visit her and just before they get down to do you-know-what he gets his Eureka! moment when noticing that large mirror in the room looks very similar to the one in the incriminating film. He breaks it and sure enough, there's a guy with a camera behind it.

But it's not just the story holes that bothered me. The whole thing is a bit dull, characters are unconvincing, our hero's relationship with Tess is not quite believable and his motivation is a bit vague too. Is he simply after the reward money or is he on some sort of a Marlowe-esque pursuit to save Ella's honor? And funny thing is that she's not concerned with that damn movie in the first place. In fairness, there's no reason why she should be since that film is hardly a smutty porn reel. It's just about her being naked and going to bed. Alone.

A bit of a mess. Shame, it could have been really good.

3.5/5

Facts:

Hero, object of desire, dames, title:
see the back cover

Location: L.A.
Body count: 0

Dames:
Ella Anders: She wasn't all sex, she wasn't all manners, she wasn't all gentleness. But she had all of it. She was completely female.

Blackouts
Two of them, both rather forgettable:
- He got sapped from behind and passed out.
- Port tensed with fear. His body relaxed only when he passed out.

Edition: 
Gold Medal #915, Second printing, August 1959 

Cover
Amazing one and definitely on this blog's top 10 covers so far. Just love the symbolism of Ella being a pawn on the chess board that everyone keeps pushing around. And it doesn't hurt that she's naked either, does it? 
The author is not credited but according to the goodreads.com website it is work of John J. Jr. Floherty. 

Notable cover blurbs: 
Never give a killer an even break - shoot first and blonde's all yours.
But as cool as it sounds it's totally untrue (see 'body count' section)

Cool lines
There was no air in the car, just mistrust. They breathed it, they sweated it, they heard it creak with the slightest movement.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Devil May Care (Wade Miller, 1950)

Another one that gets ruined straight away by its far-fetched premise. A guy is hired to deliver a letter from Cleveland to Mexico for the reward of $10k. Not sure about the US p&p expenses back in 1950 but this seems a bit extravagant, doesn't it? And here's the best part: recipient of this letter will reveal himself to our hero by using a secret signal. Which is - and I quote - anything connected with peacocks.

Huh? But at this point I was still intrigued, not really concerned. After all, sometimes such quirky plots do come alive and evolve into something substantial and (more) digestible. Not this one I'm afraid. When I reached the end of the 12th chapter, I knew it was doomed:

He felt possessive. All of a sudden it rushed into his mind how vitally important she was to him and he sat up, wondering. He said aloud, "I'm in love, by God!"

So, yeah - our hero falls in love with a virginal queen of siesta (half his age btw). And then he snaps out of it, gets drunk and in frustration or denial or whatever the fuck tries to rape the other heroine. Jinny obviously isn't exactly thrilled by this savage act although she overcomes the assault pretty quickly and it doesn't take long for her to fall in love with Biggo. And so on. And on and on. Slowly and not exactly surely.

And still no sign of fucking peacocks...

When this feathery signal finally comes, we get some action. And are treated with a LOL moment. Biggo is armed with some ancient spear that he nicked at the bar and he starts chasing the villain but is too stupid to notice that its point fell off during the pursuit. And did I mention that he is a hardened soldier of fortune? And did I mention that his adversary is armed with a gun?

Wanted to like it but just couldn't get into it. Too melodramatic, dealing with the usual subjects (two lonesome outsiders finding each other, loyalty between friends, aging guy who wants to get "out",...) in a pretty dull and uninspiring way. Not much of a spark, it feels like it was penned out quickly to fulfill the contract with the publisher.  And definitely too long. It might have worked as a novella or short story but 180 pages were simply too much.

2.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
Biggo Venn,  soldier of fortune for the last 10 years. And since this was published in 1950 it made me wonder where/when the hell were the mercenaries deployed during the WW2? 

Anyway. Back cover describes him as "Fast-talking, heavy-fisted Biggo - fast with a small cannon, fast with a buck, fast with a girl." Understandably they don't bother to mention that he's not particularly smart or resourceful or polite.

His description on the front cover is not much more accurate but it is definitely more cool sounding:
"Biggo was a man to meet... if you left your girl home."

Location
Starts in Cleveland but then quickly moves (and stays) in a small Mexican town called Ensenada.

Body count
4 (although I was a bit reluctant to take the last one - heart attack - into account)

Object of desire: 
Confession letter that would incriminate one gangster so another gangster tries to prevent Biggo from delivering it. Or something like that.

Dames
Jinny: Her face looked vaguely disappointed with the way things had gone. But there was nothing disappointing about her figure.

The queen of the fiesta Senorita Pabla Ybarra y Calderon: She was the most beautiful Mexican girl Biggo had ever seen, an ethereal combination of Spanish nobility and Aztec royalty.

Blackouts
He gets doped and rolled by Jinny on their first night together:

Why was she watching him like that? But he was too tired even to think about it or to feel the floor as he toppled forward.

Title: 
Must admit I wasn't familiar with the devil-may-care idiom. I know what it means now but I still cannot connect "a very casual attitude; a worry-free or carefree attitude" to anything in this book.

Edition: 
Gold Medal #108, fourth printing, October 1951 

Cover
"I feel sorry for us, too. You know how to fight but I don't. You know what we are? We're outcasts." She nuzzled tipsily against his collarbone. "I don't want to be one. I don't want to fight. Oh, Biggo, who wants us? Who'll settle for us?"

Cool lines
I've found this paragraph somewhat poignant:

He had been searched hastily and his wallet had been tossed aside. Biggo fumbled with it. The money was still in it. He didn't take it back because it was so bad dying, much less dying broke. Toevs wasn't a bum: no reason he should look like one to anybody.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Private Party (William Ard, 1953)

Kind of weak and little far-fetched premise (P.I. hired by the bad guys) but I liked this one anyway because it still felt very realistic.

Instead of the mob our hero simply deals with a corrupt bunch of trade union hoodlums (or something like that). Cops are not just some clueless bystanders, they are actively involved. In fact, I would dare to say they get an equal share of the ink as our hero. There's an inspector and although he and P.I. Dane do cooperate they are far from the best friends. Women are beautiful and sexy (small boned too - see the facts) but far from overly stereotypical (Ann freely admits she won't be able to withstand the Dane's questioning). There's also a great and very believable backstory about the shenanigans between the various law enforcement branches and politics that lead to the fuck-up on which the premise is built on. Cool stuff.

Written well too, keeping the steady pace and nicely steering between melodrama and more hard boiled-ish stuff. Told in the third person changing the focus on several characters that action is concentrated around with some facts revealed in flashbacks (like newspaper articles). Good ratio of dialogue vs action, descriptions with just enough of the required attention to detail (to be honest maybe some - like Roxy going to the beauty salon- are a bit redundant).

Too bad that the ending sucks. It finishes pretty abruptly as if the author had reached the word count limit (although it's only 120 pages long). A bit of an anti-climax, especially with that cop non-selfish sacrifice nonsense...

But I liked the style a lot and will definitely check out other Ard's stuff in the future.

3.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
"No. I said I was Timothy Dane from New York..."
"A snooping newspaper reporter!"
No," said the one who had entered with Purdy, "Just a hustler. They call themselves private detectives."

Location
New York and some fictitious small town called Newchester forty miles north.

Body count: 5

Dames:
Roxanne Garde aka Roxy:
A very beautiful woman, a redhead woman... Her face was small and delicate, clefted at the chin, with full, sensuous lips and wide-set green eyes whose dominant expression was appraisal. She was tall bodied, with long legs, tapering waist, extraordinary breasts.

Ann Bogan, extremely pretty and endowed with generous physical attractions:
Short and small boned. So short, and so perfectly proportioned, that her waist could truly be surrounded by a man's two hands and her 32 bosom looked pert and more than ample to men and women alike.

Blackouts: /

Title:
The initial killing takes place at some private party

Edition:
Popular Library #569, March 1954

Cover:
Roxy and Timothy

Cool lines
"I'm supposed to be special," she said in a low voice. "Why is it you don't react?"
"I must be backward," he said. "Get out of my way."
"You do it," she said. "You get me out of your way."

She uncrossed her legs, rose out of the chair and stood close to him with what Dane thought was a single, fluid motion. Her scent assailed him, made him more conscious of her basic femaleness than he could remember. And more aware of his own manhood.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Black Is the Fashion for Dying (Jonathan Latimer, 1959)

Starts very promising. Without going into details let me just quote the ending of the first chapter:

"A choking sound rose from his throat. Outside of a silver crucifix, suspended between two firm, pink-tipped breasts, Miss Omaha was stark naked."

Naked babes, Hollywood... oh yeah - bring it on!

But then it just starts to build up a classical whodunit. Page after page of a pretty monotone narrative is spent on establishing the cast, the setup and our first victim. But with not exactly subtle hints like "“...that’s Hollywood’s favorite pastime...planning how to kill Caresse" it's not much of a surprise when poor Caresse is killed. True to the formula, murder happens on a set during a movie shot and again we can see it happening few pages beforehand (a bit naive stuff with pistols and bullets as the props). But just in case we still didn't get it, Mr. Latimer reminds us that we are now in a locked-room type of a mystery:

“You know those locked-room murders they’re always putting in books?”
They nodded again.
“Well, this baby, if something don’t give, could make all of ’em look like kindergarten riddles.”

Oh, well. Nothing against the good old fashioned mystery every once in a while. Only this one turns into an amateur detective type which is really not my cup of tea. And to make matters worse it turns into two(!) amateur detectives type with Gordon directing Blake from his hospital bed so the damn thing becomes reminiscent of Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin cozy mystery. To make it even bigger mess, a bit of The Fugitive is thrown in. For no good (or at least credible) reason our amateur sleuth #1 decides to run and hide from the police chase only to appear next day in a big surprise (huh) revelation scene that takes place nowhere else but at the Oscar awards ceremony! I kid you fucking not. So much for that famous "warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse" search. But then again - cops in this one don't play any significant role. They are just observers of the "backward school of detection" method copyrighted by Gordon and practiced by Blake.

Wanted to like this one so Mr. Latimer would have a more positive opening entry on this blog but was really struggling to get over the line. It just dragged on and on... Not noir-ish, not hard-boiled, not even decently suspenseful. Felt like all the effort was spent into creating an authentic H'Wood novel with the convincing atmosphere around the movie making industry and its eccentric people. And that aspect definitely works well but unfortunately it is the only one that works.

And one last thing before I finish. You wonder what happened to that naked beauty from the opening chapter? Hate to disappoint you, but nothing much really - she disappears and is later found dead. Turns out that her sole purpose was to distract our writer hero so that the bad guy could sneak into his house to take a peek at the scene he had just written.... Surely there are easier ways to get a dude away from his typewriter for a minute?

2/5

Facts:

Hero
From the "Cast of Characters" section:

Richard Blake—An up-and-coming young Hollywood writer, he worked hard to revise the ending of his script, but it didn’t come off exactly as he’d planned

Josh Gordon—A quick-witted, outspoken young director, he was forced to improvise and he managed to supply a most unexpected ending


Location
Hollywood

Body count
A bit hard to do a proper count. Definitely a couple that I have already mentioned which together with a culprit's death makes it 3. There's also a poet (and occasional screenplay writer) who died in the past (but it's not explained whether it was a violent death) and an actor who committed a suicide. Irene too is excluded from the grand total since she only dies momentarily when hearing some shocking news over the phone ("The phone was dead. And so was she.")

Object of desire: 
Some ledgers proving that Fabro stole his Oscar-winning screenplay. 

Dames:
Mysterious blonde looking "like a child playing grown-up in her mother’s clothes":
About as cute as they came. A real doll, but probably older than she looked. They were almost always older than they looked.

And of course Caresse: "...conniving, murderous, lying bitch, a jet-age Lucretia Borgia.":
Forty-five, if she was a day. A star for nearly thirty years. Five marriages, a telephone book of lovers, scandals, disasters, triumphs, and she still made carhops of the Mansfields and Monroes.

Blackouts
Hot metal grazed his head. Back of his eyes a skyrocket exploded, sent out millions of red stars. The stars flew upwards, became dancing motes of pinkish light that vanished into outer space. Something soft pressed his cheek. It was the rug. 

Title: 
Caresse's last lines of the "Tiger in the Night".

Edition:  
eBook

Cover
eBook comes with a pretty dull cover so I took one of the old paperbacks. Not sure about its author.

Cool lines
It was going to be one of those days when it hailed frogs in Nebraska, when bats committed wholesale suicide against the Empire State Building, when a five-year-old in Peru gave birth to a three-headed baby.

“She’s really dead?”
“Even deader than her last picture.”