Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Good luck, Sucker (Richard Telfair, 1961)

D.C.I. spy Monty Nash is flown all the way from UK to some US Marines base in Puerto Rico to be briefed about the two of their European agents (one in Paris, the other in Rome) that have gone rogue. You might wonder why D.C.I. couldn't simply put together a conference call with all parties involved (Monty, his boss and Marines general) during which Monty would be told where to go and who to kill. Wonder no more - the thing is that Americans wants to test Monty's skills before trusting him with their dirty laundry.

So this (pretty idiotic) test takes the first 20 pages. Once he passes it (with flying colors of course) next 20 pages are spent on his briefing and another 20 on his preparations for the mission. Must admit that at that point I slowly started to lose my interest. Just seemed like the damn thing didn't move nowhere.

But then, after a couple of decent killings, it gradually does start to come to life. And there's a pretty funny interlude at this point. Things are going smoothly and story so far is trivial and was easy to follow but still there's four page long break in which Monty dictates a report to the H.Q. describing again everything that has happened so far. Not sure why that shit is there since it's totally unnecessary. It almost feels like Mr Telfair doubted intelligence of his readers and their (mine) ability to follow his narration or comprehend the plot. Whatever. It doesn't hurt and intro to his briefing is super cool (see 'hero' section of the facts below).

So now we are in Paris and after two more corpses we come to a cross. The Cross! You can find its full definition on top of the page 92 so I'll give you just a brief one. A cross - in spook lingo - is basically when investigations of the two agents working on separate cases cross paths. So Monty is crossed by (or with?) Phil Tate, his fellow spy from the London office. And this brings us to the coolest and most memorable scene of this book. After the aforementioned two killings our two spies need to synchronize their stories before they give the "official" one to the french cops. Mind you, guys from Sûreté are already there on the scene of the crime so they hardly have a minute or two available to do so.

But they do take their precious fucking time! The whole frantic and at times hilarious exchange of ideas and information takes almost ten pages. But all you really need to know about it is this:

... 
"Who is them?"
"The Reds."
"Okay."
...
"You're kidding."
"I'm not kidding."
"Never." Tate made a gesture of pure anguish. "Good God, don't tell me they've gotten to the Marines!" 
...

So we have a leak in the Marines corp and Red Cadre behind it. It's funny and a bit unusual that reds (Reds?) are never really identified. Are they Russians or Chinese? Maybe Bulgarian (one bad guy has Bulgarian roots) or is this menace coming from the Korean peninsula (where both of our suspects were held as POWs). We will never know and it's not really important. Communist threat was global during the cold war, right?

But it gets better as it progresses. Monty does use his brains occasionally and not just his muscles and trigger finger. His investigation finally brings him to Rome and at this point it seems like Mr Telfair got bored with the whole thing so Monty simply shoots all the bad guys. The End.

It's okay, probably 50 pages or so longer that it should be. Don't think I'll pick up another one of this series.

2.5/5

Facts:

Hero
Monty Nash, spy for D.C.I. - Department of Counter Intelligence. Seems like the Brits have another CIA like organization besides MI6. But apparently it is so secret that even Google doesn't know nothing about it.

I not only had to get out of the can, but I had to get things rolling. I called Operator 25.
The voice that answered was softly accented.
"Code Rascal," I said.
... "What is the name of the character and what is his status?" she asked, in a tone of businesslike efficiency.
I couldn't help but smile. "Mickey Mouse lives," I said.
"The number of your party is Santurce 7890," sha said.
"Thank you." I depressed the receiver and dialed the number. A thickly accented voice answered.
"Hello?"
I waited, counted ten and then spoke. "One," I said distinctly.
I then started counting to myself. "One-and-two-and-three-" and up to twenty. He came right in on the beat of "twenty-and-" with his reply.
"One-hundred-and-one," he said.
"This is Montgomery Nash. Know about me?"
"Nothing except that you're here in PR [Puerto Rico], Code Rascal, and you get the red-carpet treatment."

Don't you just love this cold war spy communication "encryption" lingo!? Such a charming nonsense.

Location:
Puerto Rico, Paris, Rome

Body count: 13
Before the final shoot-out Monty himself calculates the body count and I'm pleased to say that the figure he comes up with totally matches mine: it is eleven. But then he kills another two:

This made it thirteen dead. Far from a record. But I was keeping my average up... I was hot. Man, I was going. I was killing left and right.[The Coolest!]

Dames
See the back cover scan. Needs to be said though that women play a minor role in this one. In fact all three are killed and two of them are treated like shit by our macho Monty.

Blackouts:
Yes, he passes out when two assassins try to kill him (it was a near miss).
 
Title: 
[from another of top secret communiques]
"That's tough," I said. "But do you know why we get all the breaks?"
"Why?"
"We're smarter than you are."
"Sure," the voice was still needling me. "Good luck, sucker. When they start shooting at your head from dark alleys, I'll be a solid citizen of Puerto Rico enjoying a refreshing rum collins while I lounge around on the beach and study neat little rumps in tight bathing suits."

Edition: 
Gold Medal, 1962 

Cover
Chick & Gun - what a man's adventure books are all about!

Cool lines:  
"Where shall I put the boxes?"
"What boxes?"
I didn't answer that. She was a woman. And I said I had boxes. She would open the door. There isn't a woman in the world who could have restrained herself.

She looked up at me and she did not move. Maybe it was because she was scared, maybe she was a little stunned, or maybe it was because I had the .45 aimed at her hard little belly.

It was something I had learned a long time ago in my work as an agent in D.C.I. Strike a genuine, one-hundred per cent U.S. citizen and you strike a man that will drop everything and come running when Uncle Sam needs them.
They have, they do and they will.
And that's the difference between them - and us.
Them.
The Red cadre.

I had the .45 out then and started throwing lead.[The Coolest!]

I thought a moment. "True. It could have been nothing. But it could have been something that Stuart thought was something."[The Coolest!]

I waited.
I waited some more. One minute, as long as eternity.
One more minute, longer than eternity.[The Coolest!]

The sound of my gun had been muffled a bit in the fog. Not quite enough.[The Coolest!]

Monday, January 25, 2016

Pay-Off in Blood (Brett Halliday,1962)

Blackmail that goes wrong as the victim is murdered shortly after the money handover. What makes this short little pulp unusual and memorable is that none of the protagonists seems much interested into the blackmailing aspect of the crime at all. Our gumshoe hero, his side-kick friend and cops just want to find out who the killer is.

Fast and furious. Lots of stuff happens and it happens in a time span of less than a couple of days. Shayne is super busy and relentless on his hunt. Even though he has a reputation of a ladies man he ignores the advances of Miss Belle. Two goons "put him out cold" (see the facts below) but he returns the favor by kicking the shit out of them and their asshole debt collecting boss. Where does he gets all this energy I wondered. Maybe all those cognacs helped?

Good stuff with some excellent plotting and a smart twist that I didn't see coming. Maybe a bit too old fashioned for the 60s but that's the way I like them. My only little objection would be that it's a bit too fast. Apparently Davis Dresser got tired of writing Shayne in '58 and handed the series to a publisher. I assume that he supervised the novels anyways and maybe imposed word count limit to his ghostwriters? It doesn't really matter, Pay-Off in Blood definitely pays off!

4/5

Facts:

Hero
Mike Shayne P.I.

"Give him a fast shake-down, Jud. This joker has a rep for having all sorts of tricks up his sleeve." 

Btw and a bit off topic - I watched The Man Who Wouldn't Die after reading this one and found the whole thing a bit too silly. Are the TV episodes from '61 with Richard Denning as Shayne any better? I can see on Amazon that in 2007 a DVD came out with a couple of episodes but it's a bit pricey....

Location
Miami

Body count: 1

Dames:
The widow:
"...one of these, well, sort of professional southern belles... pretty and plump and young-looking, and never forgetting that her family was real southern gentility... the way she'd been brought up, she just couldn't help flirting... soft, platinum hair... very wide and very blue eyes..."

Miss Belle Jackson, Dr. Ambrose's nurse:
"quite a hunk of a woman... beautifully formed thighs... big breasts... well-fleshed, un-lined face and soft, blue eyes..."

Had some troubles imagining Belle - what the hell is "well-fleshed, un-lined face" suppose to be!?

Blackouts
"Put him out cold, Jud."
Jud was, as Shayne had realized the first moment he saw him, a professional. He carried out the boss's order swiftly and efficiently. Shayne felt numbing pain, and then he heard no more and was conscious of nothing more for a long time.
Title: 
A bit over-dramatic in my opinion. The thing is that blackmail money handover does take place without any problems so pay-off is not exactly in blood... But still, it sounds cool and definitely better than something like "Bloody Pay-Off".

Edition: 
Mayflower-Dell Paperback, 1963

Cover
By Robert McGinnis, beautiful and hot as they all are. Would assume that it wasn't commissioned for this novel specifically since the lady is neither Doctor's widow (soft, platinum hair) nor his nurse (hunk of a woman).

Cool lines
"Lots of people come to me who are being blackmailed. Just as people come to you with venereal diseases. Some deserve it and some don't. How bad is it, doctor?"

To be honest, this is one of the Shayne's rare witty ones. Mostly his retorts go as far as a cynical "Very, very funny". But there are some cool lines reserved for the bad guys:

He relaxed against the seat cushion and asked, "All right if I reach for a cigarette?"
Jud said indifferently, "Sure. Just don't make any sudden moves because my trigger-finger is nervous."

"I see him, Jud. I guess he likes the kind of games we play."
"Sure," Jud agreed happily. "I bet he's one of them mas-so-kists."

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Killing Man (Mickey Spillane, 1989)

Not sure what the story behind The Killing Man is but according to the Spillane's Wikipedia page it was originally published as a short story and later adapted into a novel that also came out as a serial in Playboy magazine. Have no idea which came first but that serial concept would explain a bit why this is all over the place.

Hammer - once again - doesn't even get properly hired by a paying customer. Trouble finds him when he walks in his office on the Saturday noon. He finds his beloved Velda beaten, unconscious and half-dead lying on the floor. Keeping her company is some very-dead dude tied to a chair. Tortured, his fingers cut and with a sinister threatening message addressed to our hero pinned into his head. A bit gruesome, but so far so good. This shit is going to be personal!

We have a fluke going here and I don't know where or how, but damn it, I'm involved now. I'm sure as hell involved. When he put Velda down I was in and I'm going to stay in until that fucking psycho gets nailed to the wall.

But then with every single chapter (or was it every single monthly Playboy issue?) it goes wilder and crazier and I got the impression that Spillane didn't really have any concept and was just making up this shit as he went along. Because it soon doesn't make any sense whatsoever. Plot doesn't progress one little bit and the only amusement I had was to predict/guess who/what will come on the scene next. We start with the usual NYPD and DA involvement who are then joined by the State Department, CIA, FBI, Mob, Medelin drug cartel, some super smart guy called General Skubal, etc, etc

And yes, you've guessed it by now:

"Penta's beginning to have an international flavor." +
"...the security of the United States could be compromised."  +
"Now we're into the heavy cocaine scene."

Wanted to like it, but it really is a mess. At the end there's some ludicrous vice-president assassination attempt/plot thrown in and the big finale twist is nothing more than an amateurish "twins mistaken identities" trick. Depressing read, it made me a bit sad about the aging maestro...

Published 20 years after the previous Mike Hammer novel, I would speculate it was meant to be some kind of an explosive come-back and was therefore intentionally written in such an over-the-top style. Again, I'm not familiar with its back story and to be honest, I'm not intrigued at all to do a research (but will definitely try to find the original short story!). I thought that The Goliath Bone was a lowest point of modern Hammer but I think this one beats it.

2/5

Facts:

Hero
Mike Hammer, P.I. 

Still grinning all the time (43 times to be precise), still bossing everyone around without hardly ever saying "please" or "thank you", still calling everyone kid or kiddie (and women are still kittens, dolls, sugars, honeys,...).

But he is getting older because it's been four years now since the last time he "took down" a bad guy (that "son of a bitch Julius Marco"). And in this one he also makes just a single kill:

The grin got to him. I was grinning at him the way I had at his brother back in the courtroom...
He had thrashed around so he was pointing away from me, blood spatters streaking the wall. I felt some of it on my face and grinned again...
The agony foaming at his mouth. He saw my grin again and choked out another scream...
There was one smashing roar of the .45. His blood went all over the place. Fresh specks of crimson were on the back of my hand. I stood up slowly and gave him a hard grin he couldn't see any more.

Location
New York

Body count:  
9 + Penta's killing. 

But since Penta is so elusive and secretive his killings are impossible to count and we'll need to trust General Skubal's super computer database: "Sixteen known assassinations were attributed to him, all of them with various forms of digital butchery done to the victims."

And in case you were wondering: 

I said, "Digital butchery?" 
"Newspeak for finger-chopping." 

Object of desire: 
Like everything else in The Killing Man this too is hard to explain. At first - pretty out of the blue - Candace comes with this:

She put her finger under the $905 million total and said, "That's what they want to kill you for, Mike." 

I don't think it ever gets explained how Ice Lady came up with this number but I think it represents the street value of "tractor-trailer solidly loaded with the purest cocaine you could find". But a bit later she must have recalculated the whole thing or used different methodology:

"Wild, huh? Tell me something. How much is the street value of the junk today?"
She told me. I let out a low whistle. No wonder Penta could afford to pass up the VP for an old hood. Nine-digit figures are understandable.

 
Dames
Candace Amory, presently working as an assistant to the district attorney but aspiring to become the president of USA:

She was a tall patrician-looking blonde with a cover-girl face and a body that didn't just happen. Every bit of her was carefully cultivated and when she moved you knew she danced and could ski and in the water could take two-hundred-foot dives in scuba gear.

You would never call Candace Amory "Candy." You would want to kiss the lusciousness of those full lips until the thought occurred that it might be like putting your tongue on a cold sled runner and never being able to get it off.  

There was a dominance about her that she was exuding like an invisible veil and I smiled, just barely smiled with my eyes licking hers, and for an instant there was the minutest change of expression, the cat suddenly realizing the mouse was a cobra, and the veil was sucked back in. 

It goes on and on and I don't want to bore you or myself with cobras and scuba gears.

Then there's Edwina West, General Skubal's secretary. But!

"Let's keep it simple and square, Miss West. No secretary garbage."
"Oh?"
"You're CIA, aren't you?"
There was no hesitation at all. "Yes, I am. Why should you ask?"


She has no function/role in the plot whatsoever, but still there's four page description of her:

Some women can hit you with a visual impact you'll never forget... total thing that makes them woman...crazy electric blue eyes... beautifully full breasts... generous swell of her hips... she had a dancer's legs, muscularly rounded, but perfectly curved... they hardly make them like that any more...  "You're some kind of doll, Miss West", "Please, call me Edwina."... "Watch it, Edwina, you're touching nerves I didn't know I had."...

But still - having a role or not - this "perfectly curved" spook lady and Mike almost end up fucking mere five minutes after they've met. But Hammer is on the case, he needs to go and simply leaves her with:

"You are one special woman, Edwina. The air seems to shimmer around you. I can feel your body heat and watch you pulse with whatever's going on inside that body of yours."

And let's not forget about Velda:
"Velda. Beautiful, gorgeous Velda. Those deep brown eyes and that full, full mouth. Shimmering auburn hair that fell in a page-boy around her shoulders." 

Blackouts
It wasn't a mugging. I felt the needle go into my hip and within seconds the drowsiness started.
 
Title:
"That one son of a bitch is going to fall. I don't give a damn what happens to all the money or all the coke as long as I get that bastard under my gun. We're playing around with somebody who likes to kill, likes to get paid for killing and likes to sign his name in chopped-off fingers."

But I think it should simply be titled "Penta" since this super assassin's code name is mentioned no less than 126 times! Or even better, what about "Penta, Penta, Penta" or "Killing Penta" or "Penta Killing"?

Edition:  
Clio Press, 1993. Published in "Large Print" which was something completely new to me. Hardly any margins and font size so large that it makes book almost 350 pages long!

Cover:
Nice illustration credited to Kevin Feeney. For the details see bottom of the 'dames' section.

Cool lines:  
"You're a damn killer, buddy," he told me. "We need people like you." [The Coolest!]

I couldn't play it smart. I had to explode and rammed through the door in a blind fury ready to blow somebody into a death full of bloody, flying parts...[The Coolest!]