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.