Friday, September 11, 2020

Syndicate Girl (Frank Kane, 1958)

It starts with a bang. Several bangs actually: a judge is assassinated, his wife witnesses the killing so she becomes collateral damage, a crooked cop frames a good cop for the hit, and finally - to make it sure I guess - the mobsters kill him and stage his death as a suicide.

And the best part is that all this mayhem is orchestrated by a woman. The woman! The titular Syndicate Girl who goes by the name of Mary Lister. She's a mob fixer and the top dog's messenger, later described as "more lethal than the atom bomb". Wow! Not often we come across such a badass heroine in these old paperbacks.

But on page 24 (after the job well done) she departs for the airport and we need to wait until page 167 for her to reappear. And when she does, we find her contemplating a cruise with her mafioso hubby because "the things are pretty quiet, and it's been a long time since we were away alone". And her man is planning to pull out of the rackets altogether.

So much for the atom bomb...

But anyway, our syndicate girl will never make that cruise. She packs her stuff and flies back to Jackson City to give this sleeper's remaining 25 pages at least some kind of a climax. Although, at this point, I pretty much stopped caring about how it finishes as long as it would be soon.

You may ask what happens in those 143 pages when she's not around? Nothing really worth reporting. Yet another Eliot Ness story about fighting corruption and ties between the politicians, mobsters, and media. Painfully slow and predictable.

This is my third or fourth Kane's non-Liddell book and I'm starting to lose my patience.

2/5

Facts:

Hero:
Mal Waters, a high-school football hero who went on to greater glory at Harvard law school, interrupted his studies to serve his time as a squadron leader in Korea and finally returned to his home town to become the D.A.

The bad guy(s):
Sylvan Murphy, top brains in the Syndicate. It was he who first saw the opportunities and advantages of organizing crime on a businesslike basis throughout the country.

I have to disagree with this. Especially after recently spending a week in Sicily where I visited No Mafia museum in Palermo.

Dames:
Besides Mary, there are several other tall and well-proportioned gals:
  • Rita - tall, breath-takingly proportioned redhead
  • Cora  - tall full-breasted brunette
  • Bonnie - tall, loosely put together in a way that flowed tantalizingly when she walked
  • Marta - tall for a girl, deep-breasted... full, even thick-lipped mouth
In all fairness, there actually is one cliche that the author manages to avoid. After being dumped by the cold and calculating Rita, our hero doesn't end up with Marta even though she's extremely honest, caring, understand, etc.

Location:
Fictional Jackson City

Body count:
6

Way too low considering that we get the first three corpses in the opening chapter and that the book is almost 200 pages long. Should definitely be more. If nothing else, the two top dogs and both henchmen survive this one.

Also worth mentioning is that the whole episode about Bonnie's death and framing Mel is a blatant copy&paste from Kane's Green Light for Death published ten years earlier. Almost two pages, word by word.

The object of desire:
There's a cancer eating at this town. You can cover it up, but that doesn't stop it from eating. The only way to fight it is to tear it out of by the roots. That's what I intend to do.

Blackouts:
He was dizzily aware of a sinking sensation, then the ground came up and hit him in the face.

He tried to turn over, the floor tiled sickeningly and he slid into a merciful black void which erased the white-hot flashes and the searing pain from his skull.
Joey stared down at him without expression. "I don't think he's likely to get telephonitis in the next hour."

Cool Blurbs:
She was as tough as the hoods she worked with - until she met a man who made her feel like a woman

Not that cool, I'll admit. But decided to include it because it's totally false. No sparks, except a few leaded ones, are flying between Mary and Mal.

Title:
Well, even though Mary is not really the heroine, the title "Syndicate Girl" is much more cool-sounding than "D.A. Boy"

Edition:
Dell B123, First Edition, First printing - December 1958

Cover:
By McGinnis. One of his rare ones with no long legs, but still no less astounding.

Cool lines:
The killer hesitated for a moment, as though debating the advisability of making sure of the second kill. Instead he sprinted across the lawn to a row of hemlocks that had been planted to insure privacy. He melted into the shadows, satisfied there was no immediate pursuit.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Green Light for Death (Frank Kane, 1949)

We are used to our private sleuths being efficient, but Johnny Liddell tops them all in this one. Check out the recap of his first day on this case:
  • It opens in the morgue where he identifies the body of his client/friend Nancy and meets the Detective Seargent Happy (I kid you not!) Lewis
  • Together they go to the police station where we meet Lewis' superior Chief Connors. He's an asshole. See how crooked he is in the 'cool lines' section below.
  • Liddell goes back to the morgue to have a chat with the medical examiner
  • An hour later we find him lounging at the bar with "the ease born of long experience". He's then joined by Happy and they decide to pay a visit to Nancy's roommate
  • The interview with the redheaded singer Lorna Matthews goes well. She's more than willing to cooperate and not before long Liddell starts calling her baby.
  • He invites himself to wait for her in her apartment while she'll be out working. But pretty soon receives a couple of phone calls that confirm his suspicion of the foul play. 
  • He's back in the Connors' office.
  • The meeting doesn't go well. He's off to have another drink and to get his shit together. But this reclusion is abruptly interrupted by a couple of thugs who invite him to go see their boss.
  • It's one of those "engraved in lead" invitations so he has no choice but to accept it. He meets their boss and he's an asshole too.
  • In order to avoid charges of justice obstruction, our hero needs a new client. So he walks straight into the local newspaper office and arranges that they hire him as a special correspondent.
  • Then he drives to the town's outskirts where the club of the aforementioned asshole #2 is located. This, btw,  also implies that after his arrival at the train station he also needed to arrange a car rental after checking into the hotel.
  • He stirs some troubles in the club 
  • And drives Lorna home.
  • After dropping her off, he finds an all-night drug store and calls Happy to ask him some questions. At five o'fucking clock in the morning!

Talking about a slow day in the office!

And we are not even halfway through. Thankfully, by now Mr. Kane had sorted out his misconceptions about the time/space constraints and so Liddell's second-day appointment book is much thinner. He sleeps until noon, meets his reporter sidekick, obtains a pint bottle of Cognac, uses it to extract some info from a beautiful blonde, has sex with her (the blonde not the bottle), attends a briefing with his happy cop sidekick, and goes back to his hotel to take a nap! It's 8.45pm.

As brief as this segment is, it does give us the craziest part of the book. Liddell comes across a photo of some unidentified guy and promptly decides to charter a plane to send it to the New York agency headquarter so they can help him with identification. Furthermore, it's imperative that this photo gets back quickly in order for his inside man doesn't get compromised, so he makes his booking a round trip!

So yeah, by now our hero is out of steam and the author is out of ideas. For the remaining 100 pages Johnny will gradually abandon logical thinking and subtle approach to the investigation and instead rely on brute force. The whole thing dissolves into a bit of a mess with a far-fetched premise, silly twist, and resolution that one can see coming way ahead. Kind of a sloppy imitation of Hammett's Red Harvest. One of those that give you the impression that the author did have some initial concept but was simply too lazy to develop it.

But in spite of all that or maybe because of all that, it works really well. Even if you can't appreciate the chaotic storytelling and find our hero's relentless (even though not always rational) pursue of justice a bit silly, you'll find plenty of charm in this one.

3.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
This is only the second one of the series and Liddell is still working for an Acme Agency (that could explain why he can afford to charter planes for his mail delivery, right?) but he already has quite a rep:

"So you're the guy Nancy did all the raving about. To hear her go on, you're a cross between Sam Spade and Ellery Queen with a little Superman thrown in one the side."

The bad guy(s):
"This guy Mike Lane. What about him?"
"Bad business. The local Lucky Luciano and Buggsy Siegel rolled up into one. He looks fat and soft but he's strictly rattlesnake."

You did catch the misspelling of Buggsy Siegel, didn't you?

Dames:
Redheaded nightclub singer Lorna Matthews aka The Red aka Baby.
Cigarette girl Verna Cross. Miss Chenango County 1952. Blondie.

Location:
Fictitious burg called Waterville. A nod to Red Harvest's Poisonville?

Body count:
7

Blackouts:
Two of them. First, his ass gets kicked by the hoodlums:

He knew he was slipping, fought to maintain consciousness. There was another blinding flash behind his ear and he sank quietly into the engulfing depths of the black blot.

And a chapter later by the cops:

He hardly felt the rabbit punch that felled him, dropped across the unconscious body on the floor as though the ground had been moved out from under him.

Title:
"What's the green light mean?"
"It means the guy's a stoolie or a flycop. The floor men are to keep an eye on him while he's in the joint. When he leaves, we signal the boss here, and he arranges for him to get taken care of."
Liddell nodded. "Green for death. That's what I thought."

And this deserves some explanation. There's a major counterfeit money operation taking place in the Villa Rouge nightclub. The way it works is that when the big-time hoodlums (you know, from Chi) come to the place for the first time, the yellow stage light marks them. This triggers their background check and they'll get either the red or green spotlight next time. You already know what the green means but red indicates to Casino croupiers to let them win on the (obviously) rigged roulette tables so they can cash out their (counterfeit) money. This convoluted gimmick serves the purpose that they never know who the seller of counterfeit money is.

So yes, the whole thing is a bit bonkers. Leaving aside the unfortunate choice of colors (green for death, red for money?), I wonder if it doesn't violate the basic principle of trust between criminals. I mean, would you really go into the counterfeit money laundry business with somebody you didn't know?

Dedicated to:
TO MY MOTHER
with my deepest affection and gratitude

Edition:
Dell #918

There's no printing info on my copy which is a bit confusing. You see, it's copyrighted in 1949 but the novel actually takes place around 1955. Did I read a science-fiction story? Is my copy some hard-to-find collector item with the erratum on pg 116?

I googled it a bit and noticed it had been republished several times and that it also came out as a serial. So maybe my Dell edition came out later and was slightly altered since there's no usual "unabridged" note on the cover.

Doesn't really matter. I'm including a cool cover of one Crack Detective stories issue here and you can download another one here.

Cover:
Nice one by Victor Kalin. But couldn't resist adding yet another cover. Quite accurate btw as it depicts a scene in which Liddell breaks into "marijuana fueled orgy".

Cool lines:
Chief Connors' eyes stopped taking census of the flyspecks on the ceiling.

The cops in this town are so crooked they could hide behind a corkscrew without throwing a shadow.

The combination of her low-cut dress and Liddell's vantage point made the effect one of which Johnny eminently approved.

Back at the bar he ordered another brandy, tossed it off with a grimace. He was debating the advisibility of another to keep that one steady in his stomach when someone tapped him on the shoulder.

He cut off the sputtering from the other end by the simple expedient of dropping the receiver on the hook.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Desired (Carter Brown, 1959)

What the hell, let's quickly do another Carter Brown.

This one has a bit of Agatha Christie's feel about it. There is a closed group of unconventional characters and most of the action takes place in some secluded house. A thing to mention about this cast is that there's really no need for any of them to be particularly extraordinary. It does neither help nor hurt the story itself.

But, I guess, everything in Carter Brown universe must be over the top and it would be silly to complain about the lack of realism and sloppy characterization. Let's instead move on and take a look at our hero.

Al Wheeler certainly is no Hercule Poirot and resembles more of something like the clueless Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther series. Especially in the first half which ends with the failure of his ingenious plan to lure the killer into a trap. During the ambush, our man messes things up, gets knocked off, and - upon awaking - discovers the additional corpse that he now needs to deal with. But the blow on his head seems to do him some good because he gets his shit together and starts a proper investigation.

So the second half is much better as the plot actually thickens and the pace accelerates to a memorable and bizarre ending. Wheeler makes yet another fuckup that results in a shootout and a bunch of fresh corpses. There's this shy, fragile, young secretary Ellen who was abused both physically and mentally before this climax and is now understandably shaken and terrified by the whole ordeal. And yet, the bloodbath makes her horny!!?! So guess how she and our hero decide to calm themselves down for half an hour that the law will need to get to the scene. Needles to say, the sex act will happen off the page.

And there's another instance of such sex & violence weirdness. Just as crazy as the one above.

Sexy Bella is needling and teasing our hero right from page one. But once she starts ridiculing his virility, he snaps and... basically starts raping her. The whole package - ripping off her clothes, twisting her arm, her struggling and crying... The whole page of such shit. He does regain his senses just in time and (I think) is ashamed of his attempt but then it comes: "What made you stop?" and "Maybe that'll teach you not to reject an unconditional surrender when a girl offers one!"

It's just stupid. Stupid for all the usual reasons but also because it's totally redundant since it adds nothing in terms of plot progressing or character development. Would argue that the book is not misogynistic and just as sexists as most of the pulpy stuff written in that period. So these isolated episodes don't feel genuinely mean or nasty, they are more like something thrown in with the intention of adding a bit of spice. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that stuff like this was encouraged by the publishers in order to stir some controversy that would boost sales.

In any case, it's a shame since it tarnishes otherwise more than a decent book.

3/5

Facts:

Hero:
Me, I'm a cop, but I look like a bum actor in search of a middle-aged matron worth her over-weight in diamonds.

The bad guy(s):
Tino Martens had been in the rackets since maybe the first time he whipped a diaper off the kid in the next cradle when the kid wasn't looking.

Dames:
Isobel Woods, Tom's daughter
A tall blonde, with her hair hanging down across one eye, and the build of a female Viking.

Ellen Mitchell, Tom's secretary
She had an intelligent, elfin face, and the kind of figure I started dreaming of way back when I first realized a honeymoon wasn't for eating.

And my favorite - Pearl, the ex-stripper, now Tom's spouse.
"I bet you look just the way Jean Harlow used to look," I said sincerely.

Location:
Fictitious Pine City

Body count:
6

Blackouts:
The usual stuff with explosions and pitch-black void:

Then the sky fell on my head, and the world drifted down around my face slowly, the pieces disintegrating in sharp, painful explosions of white light inside my skull. I could see the brilliant flashes and I knew the explosions had to be outside, but I felt the pain inside. Then suddenly it was all over, and I drifted comfortably in a pitch-black void, peaceful as the womb.

But the way he comes out afterward is pretty original:

I was still swaying gently, like a teen-ager exposed to rock and roll for the first time.

References:
"Was it Jung who said the mind is its own censor - that we live in the same world, but to each individual it's a different world, that no happening or incident is the same to any two people?"
"I wouldn't know," I told her. "I do know it was Wheeler who asked the question and you haven't answered it yet."

I put Ellington's "Indigos" on the hi-fi machine because it made superb mood music right then. Most of the song titles seemed an accurate forecast of my future - "Solitude" - "Autumn Leaves" - and the rest of them.

I was listening to this record while writing the review and really liked it. Just gloomy and melancholic enough for these strange covid-19 days

Title:
Not sure to whom this is supposed to refer. True, all three women are desired, but none of the killings is a crime of passion.

Edition:
Signet D2654, Third Printing

Cover:
By McGinnis. From that perspective, shouldn't the mirror reflect her body?

Also adding an earlier Signet edition cover painted by Baryé Phillips. A bit more accurate because the book actually opens with a car crash.

Cool lines:
Around one-thirty in the afternoon, Doc Murphy bounced into the apartment. He ripped off the bandages with the loving tenderness of a barracuda shark taking a sample bite out of a well-upholstered girl swimmer.
"Huh!" he grunted when the last bandage had been torn off. "The most amazing thing about you, Wheeler, is that you're healthy!"
"It's just clean living, Doc," I said modestly. "I live by the rules - the three W's - you know, wine, women and willful smoking."

Tino admired the excellent manicure job on his fingernails for a moment, then looked up at me with his big St. Bernard eyes.
"One of these days I might find the time for it," he said pleasantly. "It could be kind of amusing."
"Time for what?" I said. "Another manicure you don't need?"
"To take you apart, copper," he smiled thinly. "See what kind of sawdust comes running out."
"You said that deliberately," I told him reproachfully. "Now you know I won't sleep nights."

She bent over her typewriter, pounding the keys like they were part of my face. I lit a cigarette and though profound thoughts about life - like a good woman is never hard to find - it's the bad ones who are so hard to get.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Murder in the Key Club (Carter Brown, 1962)

After the three long covid-19 lockdown months live snooker is finally back on TV! Meaning I can only spare my time for simple quick reads and there are not many that fit the bill better than Carter Brown's novels.

As usual, it follows the three-act structure. First, our hero Rick Holman, the top showbiz fixer, gets hired as a sort of bodyguard by Carter Stanton, a sleazy night club and dirty magazine owner. And promptly gets a list of the usual suspects:

"Your editor, your wife, your sleeping partner, and your horn player," I said. "Anybody else?"

Yes, there will be a few more. One of them none other than the (did he do it?) butler! So the second act, the "rising action" section will be spent by our hero interviewing the suspects and trying to get laid. This brings us to the conclusion, the mandatory roundup climax. And to be perfectly honest, it's a bit silly affair. Check it out:

Stanton comes up with an ingenious plan of throwing a big, orgy-like party with all the above suspects invited. At its height, he announces his willingness to smooth things over in a civilized manner with whoever his potential killer may be. So he intends to discreetly turn off the lights and meet his nemesis in the study room. Of course, he neglects to inform the crowd that our Mr. Fixer will be waiting there as well and will - oh, well - fix the issue with the sucker one way or the other.

We all know that nothing good ever happens in crime novels once the lights are off, right?

And obviously, such a silly proposition not only insults the would-be killer's intelligence but it also makes us question Stanton's judgment in hiring Holman in the first place. You see, this asshole never misses an opportunity to remind our hero about the exuberant daily rate he's paying for his top services. Wouldn't he be better (cheaper) off to simply hire a muscle-man to wait in his study room? You decide. For my liking, the whole thing is a bit too much tongue in cheek.

But it's still cool. Nothing spectacularly good nor bad. It doesn't take itself too seriously and it manages not to get too silly most of the time. But, once again, I've found the puritanical take on sex interesting and it reminded me a lot of Spillane and his adolescent portrayal of women (see the 'dames' section). Ridiculous to the point where the actual act of sex is completely inferred:

"This is quite comfortable, really," she said in a drowsy voice. "Why don't you come on down?"
By the time I'd lit a cigarette, she was snoring gently.

Kind of a "look but don't touch" approach that I guess would be laughable even for the young adults these days. However, there's no problem with visceral violence:

He gave Stanton one barrel of the sawn-off shotgun, held tight in his hands, at point-blank range.
The little fat man spun aimlessly for a moment like a rag doll, then sprawled limply on his back across the carpet. Where his face had been, there was only a crimson horror.

So yeah, Carter Brown's books are products of their time. I don't think they've aged badly, let's just say they've aged in a particular way. There's still a lot of charm in them if one bothers to look for it. And without getting too philosophical about it, I can only finish this by saying that I still enjoy picking them up every now and then.

3/5

Facts:

Hero:
"What was it Aginos of Stellar Productions called you? - an iconoclast? Yeah, that's it - an iconoclast. A breaker of idols, right? A nice way of saying a guy is just goddamned rude the whole time, right? But then, I guess when you've built a reputation as the Mr. Fixit of show biz the way you have, you can afford to be goddamn rude the whole time?"

"How about you, Mr. Holman? - how do you chisel a living?"
"I'm an industrial consultant," I said.
"It doesn't sound exactly exciting!" There was a quizzical look in her eyes, "You look like something different - a cross between a con man and a bouncer, maybe?"

The bad guy(s):
There's an aging mobster:

"That means it's pretty dirty money," I said, dutifully lowering the volume. "Meyer's name is synonymous with about every big-time syndicate racket in the last thirty years."

And his muscle-man:

He was a kid and older than despair, both at the same time. Maybe all of twenty-two, white-faced, with dark eyes that jeered at the basic conception of humanity. In the old days they would have called him a torpedo, and these days they'd call him a psychopath. Either way, it added up to the same thing - an instrument of death, quick, competent, and professional. Just looking at him could make my scalp prickle uneasily.

Dames:
In this one, babes are called "houris" which is a name for a pet or bunny (or whatever you call them) that Stanton uses for centerfold models in his magazine. Paula is the dumb one:

"She's built just fine," I said coldly. "But every time she opens her mouth, nothing comes out."
"You go for the intellectual kind of broad?" He nodded quickly.

Indeed he does. Meet Nina the intellectual houri:

A tall blonde... with an easy, graceful walk... small but sharply defined breasts... long graceful legs... every movement she made exuded an explosive exciting vitality... sharp, intelligent planes of her face... sparkingly alert hazel eyes

And let's not forget Stanton's wife Melissa:

She was a tall, statuesque redhead with calculating, cobalt-blue eyes, and her controlled sensual mouth was made to be savaged.

Location:
Another no-name city in Carter Brown's faux American crime world.

Body count:
4

The object of desire:
"That's why I hired you, Holman. You've got to find out who wants to kill me so bad, and stop them before they try again with real bullets!"

Blackouts:
I was doing just fine, right up until I reached the tenth stair - then the whole second story of the house caved in on my head.

Title:
Cool sounding but inaccurate. Although Stanton owns a club with such name, none of the four murders takes place there.

Edition:
Signet S2140. First printing, June 1962

Cover:
Nice monochromatic painting by McGinnis. A bit Sin City-ish, isn't it? Not sure which houri is she supposed to be. Combination of Nina and Melissa?

Cool lines:
The first impression was of a second-hand missile salesman who'd always be safely out of the district before you tried your first blast-off from a homemade launching pad.

He grinned, showing the white horsey teeth that looked more like piano keys than anything else, and he had about four octaves bunched in his mouth.

Monday, June 15, 2020

I'll Kill You Next (Adam Knight, 1954)

Page 100 and our hero still has no tangible results or clues other than pathetic whining "he wasn't the type" on the investigation of his friend's alleged suicide. But Steve shouldn't be too surprised really because for the better part of the book he's just running around like a headless chicken and gets knocked out every now and then. And to be a bit mean, his lack of progress can easily be attributed to a somehow bizarre approach to interviewing his suspects which is basically, to threaten them with calling the cops in case they don't cooperate. What a sissy...

So now he gets frustrated (along with the reader) and changes his M.O. He's yelling at women, slaps them, pushes them around in order to get some useful information. A bit mean and nasty and of course totally redundant stuff. This is not the type of hard-boiled prose we love and appreciate. What an asshole...

It just doesn't work. Not only the unlikeable protagonist and non-moving plot but also the whole pace is off, It keeps breaking the flow and dialogue with over-descriptive bullshit about everything and nothing (usually about women's anatomy). Flat, without any real edge or tension to it, repetitious and dull dialogue with no snappy badass one-liners.

Try it if you need to battle insomnia.

2/5

Facts:

Hero:
"Detective," I said. "My name is Steve Conacher and I'm an investigator, a skip-tracer."

Dames:
There are several and my favorite was Kate with her refrigerated eyes. But the main one is Vicki who resembles the great American sex machine:

Her body was a masterpiece of planning, even under the casual red robe. In the quick moment of her leaving, in the flash of her hips and legs across the room, her whole frame sang of sex, an easy, rhythmic movement that would set the wolves howling on any street in the world.

Location:
New York

Body count:
2

The object of desire:
Then listen, sweetheart, I'm not in this for kicks, for laughs, for small talk and corny routines. Mike Smith was one of my best friends. Somebody murdered Mike. Somebody wanted him out of the way, don't you see? I'm going to find that person and kick his face in for killing a nice guy like Mike.

Which is cool and we all dig a bit of vendetta every now and then. But it becomes comical when he almost gets hired as a recruiter in order to find the cartoonist talented enough to step in the big shoes of his deceased friend. You see, Steve used to hang out a lot with this artistic crowd which somehow makes him an expert.

Blackouts:
Well, he's pretty incompetent to be honest so he gets the shit kicked out of him no less than four times. None of them very memorable. If I would have to vote, I'd go for the first one. Thwacking thud?

#1 - I turned to bring Gwen back into focus. But I never made it.
Because she hit me with a thousand pounds of lead. She dropped it on my head, a thwacking thud that sent hot needles of pain into my eyes.
I was out cold.

#2- Somebody had thrown a building at me. The blackness waved and rolled around my head as I fought to open my eyes.
I never quite made it. Somebody walloped me again.
And this time, the blackness became permanent.

#3 - And I stepped into another smack in the face.
...I awoke in a bucket of black.

#4 - The noises above me were welling up in a monstrous cacophony of confusion. I heard many voices, many steps. Before my eyes closed it seemed that the room was suddenly filled with people.
"Easy, sister," somebody was saying. "Take it easy."
I passed out on that line.

References:
There's a bunch of references to various cartoonists but most of them seem a bit forced and the whole thing sometimes feels little pretentious and patronizing, But here's a couple with which we are more familiar:

I released the pressure a bit. "Who wrote that continuity for you?"
"A friend of mine-" she said, "Ernest Hemingway."
"Weathering?"
"John," she said. "John Steinbeck."
"Weathering?" I asked again. "Or some other punk?"
"Gardner," she said. "Erle Stanley."
"You're wasting my time, Katie."

"Your imagination demands a big, broad and flat-headed gentleman to play detective for you. Admit it, girl."
"Not quite, Uncle Luke. Maybe I'm the Ellery Queen type."
"Upper class," I smiled. "Out of my league."

Title:
It's cool sounding (or is it?) but has no real connection to the story. I'm including the scan of the back cover which may give it some meaning... but the whole text is fabricated. None of it is part of the book. Don't we just love these old pulp publishers?

Edition:
Signet 1276, First Printing, February 1956

Cover:
Another great one by Robert Maguire, although not as iconic as the one he did for Knight's another Steve Conacher yarn Stone Cold Blonde. It makes you kind of sad that such great artwork was wasted on such mediocre books.

And, as the title, the cover is also totally inaccurate. No woman gets killed in this one.

Cool lines:
Nothing really cool, but here are some WTFs that you might try to decipher:

His cadaverous face was strangely handsome, in the way that a thin girl might be handsome.

Weathering lived in a sloppy hole, two small cubicles and a bath, as disorganized as a Bohemian nightmare, as upset as a schizophrenic bride.

She spoke softly, too low for her usual speech pattern. Her words carried a strong alcoholic quality.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Ed McBain's Mystery Book #1 (1960)

With the abundance of covid-19 time on my hands, I'm (yet again) sorting and categorizing my movies and books. I finally got around to tackle the petabytes of stuff downloaded over the years and have re-discovered a bunch of interesting stuff in the process. When I came across this one, I thought it would make a fitting choice to wrap up the recent cops killing and hatings posts.

Ross Macdonald was also a big reason to select it and Midnight Blue is - as expected - an excellent Lew Archer story written by the grandmaster with his distinctly elegant style and theme of messed up middle-class families. It keeps sidetracking the reader into obvious conclusions but finishes with a good old crime of passion. Sad and tragic with no winners once after Archer finishes his investigation. Not the most original or surprising ending, but I still liked it a lot for its fast-moving pace and more than a decent ratio of pages/corpse.

I'd known Anthony Boucher only by name before reading On A Day Unknown but this will soon change. Brilliant stuff, although I must admit that my knee-jerk reaction after reading a couple of pages was "For fuck's sake, not one of those". British (!) true-crime (!!) police procedural (!!!) - "The case was a splendid challenge to a pathologist."

But soon my dismay turned into curiosity and by the fifth page, I was enjoying this immensely. It's a tender and tragic love story of two lost souls taking place in England during the war years. The Canadian Indian soldier and a local British girl: 

"At first," said Sangret, "when I slept with Joan I used to have connexions with her sometimes two or three times a night and later on sometimes not at all." They had reached a state of intense need to be with each other even in the absence of sexual hunger - which may be one definition of love.

And you can imagine what the connextions are, don't you? If not, this will clarify things:

We started kissing and cuddling and I asked her if she would 'go with me.' I mean by this that I wanted to have connexions with her. She did not refuse in any way and I had connexions with her. I did not use a French letter and I just did it the natural way.

(Throughout, both in his long statement to the police and later on the witness stand, connexions is the normally monosyllabic Sangret's only word for sexual intercourse. One imagines that it was suggested by a police stenographer.)

There's not a single line of dialogue! The whole thing is written as court transcripts compiled from various testimonies that are complemented with the narrator's witty comments and observations (he was, however, totally and literally illiterate). Very original and very funny but also sad and poignant

The next one is Fletcher Flora. I liked his story As I Lie Dead from the Masters of Noir #1 but have since read a couple of his other things and wasn't much impressed. And after It was All the Girl had to Live For Now - Somebody Else's Death I'm even less impressed. Apart from its cool title, this is totally forgettable. Probably something Mr. Fletcher put together quickly to cover his rent:

A hitman (of sorts) shoots a politician during the rally because the guy had ruined his girlfriend's father. It then finishes with some wisdom about the revenge not solving anything and "he understood with silent and assured despair that he had killed two people from the window upstairs".

Richard S. Prather's Film Strip was no disappointment really because I pretty much knew what to expect. I just cannot get into his Shell Scott. His brand of cozy crime mixed with hard-boiled style doesn't work for me and I find its juvenile humor silly and sometimes idiotic and offensive. I mean, a teenage kid could call his girlfriend "my dear little imbecile" and maybe some of his friends would find it funny and laugh at it. But coming from a grown-up with white hair?

It begins with the "little imbecile" performing a private striptease for Shell on the beach while there's a murder in progress on a nearby cliff. It will also end the same way because the ridiculous plan to trap the murderer will go wrong. Shell is cornered by the killer in an empty movie theater and our exhibitionist cannot think of a better way to distract him so that Shell can take him over. Enough said...

Helen Nielsen's Confession plunges the reader into the midst of an angry mob that is about to lynch a couple of kids accused of hit and run. They break down under pressure and the boy signs the confession. During this riot, we get the full picture of what had happened in flashbacks. Well written, tight, and tense. Works well on both narrative and emotional level. But the happy ending and simplistic morality message spoiled it for me a bit. I think that the girl's "betrayal" would be more effective (shocking?) if the couple were older people and not some teenage kids eloping to Vegas to get married.

Hard Sell from Craig Rice is great. Fuck Shell Scott, this is the kind of humor that I like:

He found himself looking at a large man with iron-gray hair, blue eyes, and a prominent chin. The man looked so healthy that Malone wanted to turn away again.

Or, if you're not convinced, this (note that von Flanagan is a cop!):

Malone agreed. "You don't seem to be taking much of an interest in this one. Something wrong?"
"Plenty," von Flanagan said. "For one thing, it's an impossible one to solve. For another, I don't want to solve it"
"Why not?"
Von Flanagan shook his head wearily. "Malone" he said, "have you ever had a run-in with a magazine salesman? Have you ever had one of those little monsters stick his foot in your door and tell you how much you needed his rotten magazines? Have you, Malone?"
Malone nodded.
"They should kill every last one of them," von Flanagan said. "I mean it, Malone. Anybody kills a magazine salesman he deserves a medal."

Great stuff. Outrageous! One cannot but like the main protagonist Malone "the little lawyer" and admire his efficiency as he solves this one by mainly drinking at the bar and making some phone calls along the way.

With two double ryes under his belt and a pair of beer chasers keeping them company, Malone felt in condition to use the phone. 

Admittedly, the "suicide" solution is a bit bonkers and I'm not sure I really got it but I don't care. Like Mr. Boucher, Mr. Rice is another one on my radar from now on.

Moving on. Before the main feature, there's a cool intermezzo. A "special report" on the history of forgery and counterfeit titled Reasonable Fascimile, written by Rex Lardner. Educational I guess, but foremost funny. Quite a tongue in cheek stuff like this:

The earliest counterfeiters, who clipped coins and made new ones from the shavings, had their ears
clipped when caught. King Canute decreed that their hands should be cut off. The Romans deprived counterfeiters of their citizenship and then removed their ears and noses. Later, these steps not considered sufficiently discouraging, their ears, noses, hands, and feet were cut off and what was left was served to hungry lions. One presumes they were hungry.

It finishes on the resigned note that there's a bunch of counterfeited merchandise being sold these days but not much can be done to prevent this. It kind of makes you long for the days of good old King Canute.

McBain's 87th precinct novelette The Empty Hours is the main part of this digest and, I guess, it was its main selling point. But I won't spend much time on it because I don't want to repeat myself when it comes to this serial. But it is a bit paradoxical that in this one the police procedural methods actually hinder the story and make it less plausible.

For example, as we are approaching the end, cops are still (a week or so after the crime) for some reason interrogating the victims' neighbors and informers even though they have plenty of hard evidence and other leads to pursue. And btw, there's a description of a line-up that is more or less copy/paste-ed from the Cop Hater. And similar to that one, here too they find the solution by fluke.

The last story is Richard Matheson's chilling The Faces. A little psychological gem about the abuse and mental illness that (I believe) says that some people simply shouldn't have kids.

A good choice to finish this interesting collection with a flavor of horror.

4.5/5

Facts:

Dames:
From Midnight Blue:
She had on a plain white blouse, which was full of her.

From the Empty Hours:
She moved with an expert femininity, a calculated unconscious fluidity of flesh that suggested availability and yet was totally respectable. She seemed to have devoted a lifetime to learning the ways and wiles of the female and now practiced them with facility and charm. 

Body count:
3 + 2 + 1 (discounting of course the spiritual dead) + 1 + 1 + 3 + 0 (discounting the counterfiters devoured by hungry lions) + 2 + 1 = 14

References:
"On A Day Unknown" of course retells the story of Georg Büchner's Woyzcek (so now we also know from where the Boucher pseudonym is coming from). But even though I've seen Herzog's film, I must admit I didn't make the connection until once this play is explicitly mentioned at the end. 

Cover:
Pretty cool. It could be portraiting a scene from either The Empty Hours or Film Strip. But since none of the tough guys has white hair, I would lean more to the former.

Cool lines:
From Midnight Blue:
She touched her thin breast absently, pathetically, as if perhaps she hadn't been much needed in the past.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Killer Cop aka My Old Man's Badge (Ferguson Findley, 1950)

One of those that count on the reader to not pay much attention. You know the type. Books that we read on our morning commute in autopilot mode, craving coffee, and still half-asleep. Incapable or just too lazy to be bothered by the obvious story flaws and inconsistencies.

But in these strange covid-19 times I have plenty of time so I did pay attention and here's how the plot thickens in this one:
  1. Cops receive an anonymous letter tipping them that the cop killer from the past is back in town.
  2. The letter's paper analysis reveals its poor quality. It must be used in one of the cheap hotels around Bovery.
  3. They decide that the best way to handle this affair would be to send a man undercover.
  4. They do. This man, our hero, tracks down the guy who's selling the paper.
  5. This guy also runs the dope racket with a small gang of three misfits.
  6. And one of them just has to be the wanted cop killer.
Mind you, this is just the beginning. It gets crazier.

Before proceeding, it's worth mentioning right away that everyone drinks excessively in this one. Billie even eats her breakfast with whiskey! So you cannot help to think that maybe the author too had a slight drinking problem and was unable to keep the coherent story going for more than a couple of chapters. Not saying he did but such issues would certainly help explain the occasional switch from the first to the third narration. Or needlessly establishing a character that would be soon dropped without much explanation.

It seems like the editor (huh?) was losing patience as well the more he or she neared the end. We are treated with some hilarious stuff. Check this - our hero is chasing the bad guy and frantically shouting at witnesses "Where did he go?" but there's big blood trail splattered on the floor clearly pointing the direction.

Even our hero is not immune to the fatigue as this goes on. At one point, when weighting his options and assessing the possibilities of progressing the investigation, he simply abandons the idea and instead takes a nap:

It was interesting to think about, but I went to sleep instead.

Brilliant! And it had the potential to be one of those great little silly books. But it just doesn't know when to stop. Instead of wrapping it up with some sort of a bang, it goes on and on and on. True, even more silliness will follow but the whole thing is less and less amusing and more and more boring with every page you turn.

So I wouldn't recommend it for your commuting literature. You may fall asleep and miss your stop.

2.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
Johnny, the cop, who "prowls the Greenwich Village streets"

Dames:
Billie, the junkie night club singer:

If she was the Billie Bloomer who was expected, the bartender's observation of "everything's in the right place" was entirely correct. There was plenty of it, too, so much that Tony mentally asked himself, "True or false?" She dropped one of her gloves on the floor as she hung her coat in the almost empty check room. As she bent over to pick it up, he saw the answer was "true."

She's cool but the Countess de Callene is even cooler. Too bad she appears in just one scene and her character serves no purpose other than having sex with our hero:

"Do you think I'm pretty?" she wanted to know.
Well, she was. For all I could tell, she was a dope taker and a tramp and God knows what, but she looked darned good, sitting there in that room wearing nothing but a sheet, and I told her so.

Not really important, but it turns out she's not really of royal blood. And has a bit odd sense of humor:

"Were you born in Brooklyn?" I asked. "So was I."
"That makes us practically cousins, so we can't get married. All our children would be idiots, or Ptolemies, or born with two heads. I can't stand two-headed kids. Come over here and have another martini."

Wouldn't be fair not to mention his darling fiance nurse Mary. A typical girl next door, not interesting at all. But, unlike Countess, she does have an important role. For some strange but highly convenient coincidence, one of the bad guys is wounded and ends up in the hospital where she works. You know - "of all the hospitals in NYC she walks in mine",  And there's more. Upon realizing this guy is Johnny's suspect, she promptly decides to inject the poor sucker with a truth serum!!

Location:
New York

Body count:
It opens with a couple of corpses (see below) but this happens in the story that establishes our hero. Not linked directly to the main story so we can safely exclude them from the body count. In this prologue, we also witness the demise of Johnny's parents. We'll skip the mother but his cop dad's death is pivotal to the story so it definitely counts.

Besides the old guy, there are four more violent deaths, so the grand total is 5.

Muddy's death is the best one by far. When Johnny finds him dying "with the purple-lipped hole in his chest, where a wide knife had been slipped between his ribs" he asks him "What's wrong?"

The object of desire:
Johhny wants to find his father's killer but there's also a subplot that involves a shitload of heroin:

"We've got a nice little deal all arranged, Murphy. Couple of kilos of pure heroin, and I mean pure. It'll be worth a million dollars to us when we get it and cut it down."

Btw - cops have no problem with letting this deal go through so that they can get closer to the cop killer!

Blackouts:
Almost:

I dove across the table and had my fingers at his throat when Cookie knocked me on the head with the butt of his gun and I went limp. He didn't knock me out, but I pretended to fade away. It gave me a chance to think what to do next.

References:
One of the bad guys has issues with Irish lads so a cop provokes him by playing Molly Malone.

Here's the Sinead O'Connor's version. Always lovely to hear this sad and beautiful song.

Cool Blurbs:
"She Lived For Love - He Killed For It"

Which sounds cool but has nothing to do whatsoever with the story. Shouldn't be surprised really... published by Monarch.

Title:
Also misleading. Our hero kills only in the first paragraph and in the last sentence.

Edition:
Monarch Books #114, April 1959

Cover:
Pretty cool one. Even accurate in case it depicts the scene in which Johnny and the Countess meet. Obviously, before the two-headed kids stuff happens...

Illustration not credited. Any ideas?

Cool lines:
Great opening paragraph:

Smith & Wesson's Police-Model .38 is the smoothest-working revolver ever made, and yet I was having trouble breaking the cylinder to get rid of the five empties. It wasn't the gun's fault. It was mine. My hand was shaking as though I had been on the booze for three months, or as though I was a rookie cop who had just killed a couple of men.
Which I was.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Cop Killer (George Bagby, 1956)

I barely fell over the line with this one. Endless pages of convoluted sentences that can (and often do) switch context several times before they are finished. Written in some weird archaic language in which bodies are cadavers and there are not many nouns without accompanying adjectives like germinating, subcutaneous, lugubrious... Amusing at first, soon annoying but then simply distracting. Halfway through I lost interest and stopped looking up this crap in the dictionary.

The plot is decent, although a bit simplistic and could (should?) probably fit just as well into a short story or novelette. But still, every story point is re-established several times and sometimes even the most trivial facts are described with almost obsessive attention to detail. To make this (even) worse, the duo of our investigative protagonists keeps mulling over these facts over and over, thinking out loud about them and discussing the theories and possibilities. The word "would" is probably used several times on each and every page.

No action, no story development. There are times when this becomes apparent even to our hero. But his typical response would be something like this:

Schmitty shook his head. "Just keeping more angles open," he said, "until they close up on me. We need contusions or abrasions."

The most shocking aspect of this one for me was to realize that it was 26th entry of the series that would go on and run for another 27 books. So you collectors out there, if you're missing this one from his middle period, you may be interested to know that my copy is now available on eBay.  Give me a shout and I'll be happy to give you a discount. You deserve all the breaks you can get if you are planning to go through with this one.

Boring.

2/5

Facts:

Hero:
It uses the gimmick in which narration is in the first person and the author is supposed to be the narrator (he's not, his name is Aaron Marc Stein). Which is generally fine but in this case doesn't make sense. I mean, we know that Dr. Watson just tagged along with Holmes but you can't do that with the police inspector. Not unless you're in some sort of an official position to be able to do so. An assistant? Maybe his partner? At least his best buddy news reporter or private detective? We just don't know. All we learn is that he is "his ink-stained shadow, Bagby".

So de facto hero in this one would be Inspect Schmidt aka Schmitty. Bagby seems to be fanatically devoted to him with a passion bordering on something more than just a professional admiration. I simply couldn't share such sentiment. The only thing that makes this guy special (eccentric?) is his taking off the shoes whenever he gets a chance!? But more importantly, he's a bit of an asshole as he does fuck all about the savage beating some kid gets from his uncle or about the smacking that Miss Smith gets from Papa Black.

The bad guy(s):
The main suspect for the cop killing is a fifteen-year-old kid to whom more than a hundred pages are dedicated. Maybe justifiably since he is a true badass who started his criminal career four years ago with "rushing the theatre door" at the movies.

Dames
Miss Smith is the only female character (!) and she appears twice (!!) on a grand sum total of three pages. But she's cool, I liked her a lot. And btw, she delivers the only cool line in the whole book. See below.

Location:
New York

Body count:
2

Title:
See 'the bad guy' section?

Edition:
World Distributer Books, WDL M914, 1959

Cover
:
Same cover as the original Dell edition. By James Hill.

It's actually authentic in depicting the scene in which the kid is interrogated by the cops. They make him take off his shirt so they can examine the bruises his asshole uncle left him after giving him the "licking he wouldn't forget". Thankfully, these bruises are left out of the illustration.

Cool lines:
"Cigarette me, somebody," Miss Smith growled. "I'm half dead for a smoke.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Never Kill A Cop! (Hal Braham as Mel Colton, 1953)

Like in the last two posts, in this one too the cop gets murdered to kick off the proceedings. But unlike those two - where the whole police department would get mobilized - here nobody seems to be much bothered with the killing.

Even though our main protagonist is a cop, this is far from the police procedural. It's more like one of those small-town setups with local (corrupted) cops, (corrupted) politics, organized crime and - needless to say - scheming dames with some psychology thrown into the pot. You know, one of those that guys like Jim Thompson and Gil Brewer perfected and so when reading this, you can appreciate them even more and understand why they are such masters.

But don't get me wrong, this one is not bad at all. Just a bit chaotic. Starting with our hero who's a hot-tempered badass that gets in fistfights no less than three times in the opening four chapters alone. One of them happens like this:

He jutted his chin out. "Who are you, a cop?"
I blew smoke in his face. His eyes blinked momentarily. I ran a thumb along the side of my lower lip. I said: "You keep following me and I'll slap you flat on your ass."
He looked me over carefully. He said it before he meant to, I guess, because it was either rank foolishness or smart talk, because he muttered, "You're sure one tough bastard-"
He went flat on his ass.

So don't expect any witty verbal exchanges nor cool one-liners in this one. It needs to be said that he doesn't appear to be very bright either. He keeps getting deeper and deeper into a hole because of his totally irrational behavior. Surely, in a small town where everybody knows everybody, you wouldn't flee a bar after some brawl in which you have knocked off a guy unconscious? Can you really be surprised to find yourself a suspect after shooting at cops? Especially after discovering a body and for some reason neglecting to report it to the authorities... after deciding to keep the gun found in the dead man's pocket.

Thankfully, after a while, he does get his shit together and manages to solve the case. Although, if I wanted, I could probably easily found a bunch of inconsistencies that don't exactly hold water. But there's no need to do so. It's a quick entertaining read with lots of shortcomings that actually make it charming. I particularly liked the ending and found it cool that our hero decided to move to California and get some real education:

"Out West, in California," I interrupted, "they have schools for cops. They're teaching them to be trained, professional men in police work. I'm going out there to one. I want to be a trained cop, Phil. I don't want to have to use fists all my life to prove a point or get a confession."

Always a good thing to see people being aware of their shortcomings. Cops especially. And if I come across of the sequel to this book, I'll be more than happy to pick it up and check on Danny's progress in California.

3/5

Facts:

Hero:
Danny Harrington, a cop... for a while... until he's demoted... and then reinstated again

Bad guy(s):
Mr. Joslyn: the big shot gambler, the syndicate man from Centerville - the hub, the pivot.

Dames:
There's his girlfriend Irene and his sister Lil, but the main femme fatal in this one is definitely Martha:

Martha was sex. Sex wrapped up in cellophane. In a glass case. Never, never touch.

And speaking of sex, like most everything else in this book, it's depicted in some crazy manner that one needs to decipher. And which makes it sort of amusing. Check this as an example:

Then she began to groan and whimper and there was the suspicion of great pain, for there was constriction and there was desperation. There was the pressure of defiance, and the acceptance finally, and with the warm mellow glow that followed.

I think I can guess what the "Mellow glow" would be. But Great pain? Desperation?

Location:
The fictitious town of Bishop, fifty miles away from Centerville (huh), "the gambling syndicate's base of operations"

Body count:
5

Object of desire:
That, I think, is the biggest flaw because most of the time you have no idea what's driving this dude. Right after the opening killing, all he seems to want is to get laid. Either with Martha, his brother's wife (!) or with Irene, the girlfriend of his now ex-partner/friend (!!) who btw once saved his life. Then he gets this epiphany about "I've got to know the truth, one way or another" and finally is all about stepping out of the shadow of his younger, more successful brother.

And yet another example of this book being all over the place. But again, it's also something that makes it captivating. You simply don't know what's going to follow in the next paragraph let alone the next chapter.

References:
"Ever study Freud?" she asked quietly.
I shook my head. "Not much." I was watching the gun in her hand, and waiting for the tag line to come.
"This gun," she continued, "or any gun, is a male symbol."

Title:
Like in Never Kill a Cop, there's no comment needed. And they made the point in this one even stronger by adding an exclamation point to the end.

Edition:
ACE double D-19 MY

Cover:
Cool one by Bernard Barton. A bit ambiguous I think - Is she afraid of him or is she trying to seduce him? Maybe both?

Cool lines:
"I'd rather we talk about you," she replied.
"You're talking about trouble, kid," I said.
Martha turned quickly and faced me. Her lips were so damn close I could feel her breath. "Maybe I like trouble," she snapped.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Cop Hater (Ed McBain, 1956)

I have read quite a few McBain's books in the last couple of years and was saving this one for a special occasion. After all, it is the very first of the 87th precinct series that would go on and run for incredible half a century which - I guess - would make Cop Hater the mother of modern police procedurals. So after reading Never Kill a Cop, I decided to stick with the cop-killing theme and finally picked up this one.

In spite of its overly poetic tone (...dazzling galaxy of brilliant suns...) I was hooked after 30 or so pages. Written exceptionally well in the flat, matter-of-fact narrative that manages to elegantly mix the intimate family parts with very gritty and realistic stuff about the police investigation mechanics. To take the latter to an extreme, there's a number of various official forms pasted into the text (see the "Bad Guy" section of the facts below).

After some initial dismay, I wasn't too bothered by them and actually found them amusing and took time to read them instead of simply glancing over them. And I'm proud to report that I discovered an error in one of them: on the autopsy report, there's not explicitly stated that the measured height is actually the height of a skull so it reads like the victim was 28.9 centimeters tall (or should I say short). Check it out yourself:

Btw - what the hell is chronological age? Or, re-phrasing it - what would be a non-chronological age?

The best part of these technicalities comes quite early when the team needs to create a cast of the shoe heel left imprinted in dog shit (!!). If you'll ever find yourself in such a predicament, here's a formula that you need to use.

So, yeah - it's cool and we have a bit of everything here. Ballistics, various reports, autopsies, interviews, the line-up, and stool pigeons. Or, I should say, THE stool pigeon:

Danny Gimp is by far the best character in this one. The entire dialogue of the cops purchasing information from him (needless to say, taking place in a dingy bar a.k.a. his office) is written in slang and is such a joy to read. It's about three pages long so I have no intention of typing it here in its entirety. But it deserves at least its conclusion:

"I don't trust junkies," Bush said.
"Neither do I," Danny answered. "But this guy ain't a killer, take it from me. He don't even know how to kill time."

But I'm going too fast. Unfortunately, before I reached that part, I kind of lost interest. It simply gets bogged down too much. While I can understand the involvement of "the cynical newshawk" reporter Savage (to be honest, he does actually contribute to the story development), I found that whole segment about juvenile delinquents gang needles and pretty silly. It just took away the momentum so the book simply became merely interesting and stopped being thrilling.

What finally spoiled it for me, was the ending that felt like something hastily patched together with the "twist" that you could see way ahead. I bet that all the police procedural fans out there felt cheated as hell with such a climax in which police work doesn't really mean shit and the case break-through is so far fetched. Furthermore, it felt like the author himself kind of lost interest because (for example) towards the end he still found time to fill two whole pages with Steve and his fiance being in Chinese restaurant deciding on dishes they are about to order and decrypting fortune cookies...

Undeniably, this is good stuff but it's just not my cup of tea. For me, it's one of those where the total sum of its parts amounts to much less than it should. Feels like the author put all his effort into research and his skills into creating the atmosphere but pretty much neglected the story itself. Especially the ending sucks.

3.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
An ensemble cast, but Steve Carella is our main guy:

He was a big man, but not a heavy one. He gave an impression of great power, but the power was not a meaty one. It was, instead, a fine-honed muscular power.

Worth mentioning that in this one, he is partnered with Hank Bush and not yet with Bert Kling. But - spoiler ahead! - he will need a new partner once the case of the cop hater is finished.

Bad guy(s):
Check out Dizzy's record on your left. Do you think he could be our titular cop hater?

Dames:
There's Steve's fiance Terry and several soon-to-be cop widows like Alice (dynamic blonde with a magnificent figure) and May (full-breasted woman in her thirties...with good legs, very white, and a good body... who could get drunk sniffing the vermouth cork before it was passed over a martini)

And let's not forget about the prostitute La Flamenca:

"And La Flamenca?"
"She's with him, probably cleaned out his wallet by this time. She's a big red-headed job with two gold teeth in the front of her mouth, damn near blind you with them teeth of hers. She's got mean hips, a big job, real big. Don't get rough with her, less she swallow you up in one gobble."

Nice! This girl should have been a part of John Waters' Dreamlanders misfits. What a great pair she would have made with Edith Massey.

Location:
The city in these pages is imaginary.
The people, the places are all fictitious.
Only the police routine is based on established investigatory technique.

Body count:
3 dead cops and 2 persons on death row so it's safe to sum it up to 5.

There's also one unrelated death in an episode in which a housewife snaps and kills her asshole husband with a hatchet! This sad (and funny?) story is definitely one of the novel's high points and a great example of McBain's brilliant writing.

Blackouts:
none

References:
There's a reference to Joyce's Ulysses but its inclusion seemed a bit forced. Never read it but would still somehow agree with "Christ, that had been one hell of a book to get through."

Plus, when some suspect gets interrogated, he establishes his alibi by watching the following movies in the local cinema: The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Body and Soul, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Violent Saturday.

And what an incredible coincidence this was because I saw Body and Soul just the night before reading this! And a cool movie it is. Hazel Brooks is great even though her role is pretty minor.

Title: 
Somebody is killing cops so police assume they are dealing with the cop hater.

Dedicated to:
This is for Dodie and Ray

Edition:
Permabooks M-3037, 2dn printing - April, 1956

Cover:
Instead of the usual illustration, this one is a collage of photographs by Daniel Rubin. And it makes sense since they were going for realism so hard.

Cool lines:
"We didn't mean to disturb your beauty sleep," Bush said nastily.
The girl raised one eyebrow. Then why did you" She blew out a cloud of smoke, the way she had seen movie sirens do.

"Do I detect sarcasm in your voice, Lieutenant?" Savage asked.
"Sarcasm is a weapon of the intellectual, Savage. Everybody, especially your newspaper, knows that cops are just stupid, plodding beasts of burden."


Thursday, April 30, 2020

Never Kill a Cop (Lee Costigan, 1959)

The last couple of posts were way too long and I blame this on my regained enthusiasm after neglecting this blog for three years. I'll try to keep this one shorter, but it's a shame because it would deserve a more thorough review.

Terrific police procedural with its main storyline intertwining with another one told from the perpetrator's point of view. So not much of a mystery, but there's plenty of action, intrigues, romance, and even humor to make it a real page-turner. Great pace too as the whole thing is finished over three days. And btw, chapters are titled by days and timespans within them which is something I always like to see.

It all ties well together, and technical details - that are more often than not totally overplayed in the police procedural genre - are balanced nicely in just the right dosages. We have technical wonders of IBM computer (along with stacks of punching cards of course), polygraph test, ballistic lab stuff, and basically loads of hard work and determination that pays off in the end. The investigation doesn't simply follow from point A to point B, but instead, there are many bum leads and realistic obstacles like the little episode in which a cop runs out of gas when driving to pick up some major witness! Did I mention there was some humor in this one? And see the "Bad guy" section of the facts below for more.

I do have a few minor complaints. Negro/nigger words are used too often, although it needs to be said that such language is utilized strictly as a characterization tool (nice(r) guys would say blackfella or colored guy) and for making the novel more realistic. I hope. I certainly didn't get an impression there was anything racist about it.

It wouldn't suffer much from 20-odd pages trimming and a slight ending rewrite. I don't think that the asshole pimp Lucas should break that easily. But at that point, we are over page 200 so probably Mr. Costigan just wanted to wrap it up. Like I'm doing now.

Short enough?

4/5

Facts:

Hero:
Detective Lieutenant Johnny Cristo is the guy we follow around mostly but in some ways, the hero in this one would be the entire police precinct. I especially liked Eleanor, "the diminutive little lady", who runs the IBM mainframe.

Bad guy(s):
Syndicate running Old Man is the top dog and the main villains are the ex-pimp Frank Lucas - "a graduate of Sing Sing, an alumnus of San Quentin" and his henchman Marthusian.

But the real star is Fenton the hitman. We get some idea of him upon his first appearance:

There was no stamp of the Syndicate upon him. There was something odd, though, something strangely fanatic in his face.
It was his eyes. They were dark, luminous, and they seemed never to blink. Frank Lucas had once seen a movie in which John Brown had stormed the arsenal at Harpers Ferry.
Fenton reminded him of John Brown.

I wouldn't go as far as to say that he steals the entire show but he's definitely a cherry on the cake. Some piece of work this guy is. The polar opposite of the usual professional hitman. Not very bright since he kills a cop at the airport toilet right upon his arrival and later  - even worse - kills a wrong guy. And why you may ask? Well, he simply picks his target's address from the phonebook, and there happened to be a couple of guys with the same name. So forget the usual stuff about the hit preparation like the long surveillance and gathering info about the target's habits and so on. All that Fenton requires is the name, the address and a piece of advice from the newspaper's horoscope (!!):

Today is a propitious one for action which you may have been holding off for days or even months. Act today to buttress your position at work, in financial dealings or in matters of love.

Not exactly a psychopath. To one of his victims he looks like "a Midwest farmer dressed for a church breakfast".

It's hilarious to read about the troubles he's putting his employees through. Even though he's told numerous times to back off until things cool down after the cop-killing fuck-up, he doesn't even consider giving up. When Lucas suggests to hide him in one of his establishments (since he's a pimp, you can imagine what they would be), Fenton flatly rejects such an idea because he's a religious man and won't stay in "them" houses. And he's no drinking man either which drives Marthusian crazy later when he chaperones him.

Dames:
There's Johnny's love interest Terry and she's cool and for some strange reason, I wasn't too bothered with the "I love You" crap after their one-night stand.

And we have seductress stewardess Sally with "curves that seemed to move with a life of their own" and "stacked like a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield". But she's around only briefly for an interview and to give our Johnny boy some ideas...

Finally, there's Mrs. Lucas. She is mentioned for the first time when her husband is introduced:

There was a man with a record as long as his arm, and a woman with a record barely shorter... The man's name was Frank Lucas and the woman was his wife.

And:

He had a pretty wife, younger than himself, intelligent and elastic enough to hide her past.

And finally, for the only time when she briefly makes an appearance, she's described as a "stylish woman of statuesque proportions".

But unfortunately, that's it. Intriguing (elastic!?) with great potential but not used at all. It would be cool to find a prequel to this book centered around her and Fenton.

Location:
I can't remember it explicitly named so it would be one of those 87th presinct "the city in these pages is imaginary".

Body count:
3 (+ 1 Fentom's victim that is not directly related)

Object of desire:
Finding a cop killer

Blackouts:
None

References:
Did Frank see Michael Curtiz's Santa Fe Trail and Fenton reminded him of Raymond Massey?

Cool Blurbs:
No notable blurbs but I'm including the back cover scan anyway because I find it funny to see an ad about book related to Jesus Christ on the back of a pulp paperback. Bad sales?

Title: 
Another one that's pretty self-explanatory.

Dedicated to:
"To Ann"

Edition:
Pocket Book #1256,  2nd printing, November 1959

Cover:
Nice one. No credits, but according to pulpcovers.com, done by Darrel Greene.

Cool lines:
There's a nice and somehow tender subplot concerning one cop whose wife is getting sick and tired of him never been around and is about to leave him. So, it was nice to read this in the epilogue:

Motorcycle Patrolman Ryndes had solved his domestic problem by kidnapping his son, leaving him at his mother-in-law's, pouring three martinis into his wife and attacking her in bed.

That's an original and cool way to wrap up the book with a happy ending!

Friday, April 24, 2020

It Ain't Hay (David Dodge, 1946)

I had really hoped it wouldn't be one of those...

It starts okay-ish with that classical setup of a guy sitting in his office and secretary admitting a bit shady client. Unfortunately our hero James Whitney is no hard-boiled P.I. and his secretary is no Velda. She is his "middle-age female watchdog" (his fucking words, not mine!) and he is an income-tax consultant. But what a hell, let's not be prejudiced and judge people on despicable professions they do in order to pay the bills.

My eyebrows started to lift a bit as early as in the second chapter. After the hard day's work, Whitney takes his wife to the local restaurant for a quiet dinner over the candles. All good and romantic until the place is attacked by some raving lunatic. He gets subdued and one of the patrons, who happens to be a psychiatrist, offers the explanation of what just happened:

"The way he walked in attracted my attention. As soon as he ordered the muscatel I suspected him, because drug addicts who drink at all like something sweet and bland. I knew it was marijuana when I looked at his eyes. Opium or morphine or another opiate would have contracted the pupils instead of expanding them."

So now we know where we stand. But Jimmy boy still doesn't and so next day he visits his good friend detective lieutenant Webster and is promptly given a quick prison tour during which we meet an eighteen-year-old kid bashing his head on prison bars. You see, he had been so hoped-up on two reefers ("one might have been enough") the night before that he smashed the heads of his pa, ma and fourteen-year-old sister with a baseball bat!

Yes, by this time it is clear it's going to be one of those... drugs are bad... kids, don't do drugs...

Not surprisingly, it turns out that the shady guy from the book's opening chapter is some major mobster (he looks like the French ambassador) who needs James to do his money laundering. It never gets explained why such a badass would pick up his tax consultant randomly from the yellow pages. Keep in mind that this is taking place 15 years after Al Capone's imprisonment for tax evasion and one would think that by this time the Syndicate would have established some team of legal experts on tax matters. Or something...

But this is just a minor inconsistency comparing to some forthcoming hard-to-swallow shit. Webster soon joins forces with James (mind you, not the other way around!) but for some reason, it doesn't occur to either of them that the easiest way to bring this guy down would be for James to simply take the offered job. Surely it would be a piece of cake to expose somebody's tax wrongdoings when you have all the access to the accounting books. This becomes especially unusual in the light of later developments when none of them has a problem with sending a grieved widow off to be a bait when capturing some crazed (needless to say - hoped-up) maniac whose rap sheet includes rape among other felonies. Was there no policewoman available in the entire SFPD willing to go undercover?

Not to mention the whole elaborate sub-plot about smuggling the hay all the way from Mexico. It makes a little sense because just before revealing this master plan, we learn that the weed can be (and actually is) planted all over the USA because it is so super resistant. Is it possible that even back in the 40s, South Americans were scapegoats for the American drug problem?

Whatever. No need to go into that. What is worth exploring a bit is the way how our team of experts uncovers the connection between marijuana and Mexico. It is very straightforward - our mobster owns a tuna fishing boat and apparently, commercial tuna finishing is carried off the coast of Mexico. And that's basically it, I kid you fucking not! All I can add is that at least the publisher was honest enough to call this "A Dell Thriller" and not "A Dell Mystery".

But then again, calling it a thriller would be a bit of an exaggeration. There are pages and pages of needless padding. Towards the end - when things should really be speeding up - there's an almost dialogue-less chapter that is pretty much entirely dedicated to establishing some minor henchman's badass character. Not sure what the point is, because the guy gets killed shortly after anyway. Was the author chasing some word count? Hard to believe since the book is 200 pages long. Did he go overboard with the research and was simply a bit stoned?

I wanted to like it but this one is all over the place. Nothing really works. But still, let's finish on a positive, educational note. If you have ever wondered why musicians do drugs, this may help you understand:

"Look at some of these musicians that use it. It excites them, makes them high and hot, so they can beat the music out faster, get in the extra licks they couldn't handle otherwise. They are in the groove, and the groove is boogie-woogie - for them. For somebody else, the grove is rape or murder or arson."

And for all of you out there who are considering switching back from consuming hard opiates to just smoking pot, this may be useful to know:

"Opium doesn't give you trouble?"
"Don't get me wrong. Opium is plenty bad for anybody that uses it. I meant that hop smokers want to get off in a corner and go to sleep, not hell around looking for trouble. A hay head has to be near other people; he's excited, steamed up, talkative, full of vinegar. He's like a stick of dynamite in a fire. Maybe he'll burn with a nice hot flame, maybe he'll blow up in your face. You just can't tell."

So now you know.

2/5

Facts:

Hero:
James Whitney may be "big, strong and handsome" but at the same time, he's also a dull, conservative, vain, and ego-centric asshole.

Bad guy(s):
That would be Barney, Tony and Max from the list of characters. Tony is a bit of a psycho so there was some possibility of at least minor character development. But of course, it never happened.

Dames:
No strong women characters either. Kitty (as voluptuous and luscious as she is) is introduced at the beginning and she only re-appears briefly at the end with the sole purpose of wrapping it up with a proper, family-friendly kind of ending. Iris and Rosa are more interesting but both totally underused. Rosa especially gets some pretty shitty treatment:

The story does take a somewhat cool detour in chapter 13 (titled "better than a drink") in which James gets drunk and stoned (on a single reefer mind you) and actually scores with Rosa. That's the cool part. But instead of keeping her around and actually involving her in the case, this pathetic tax consultant gets such a guilty conscience that he goes to see a shrink (chapter "undressing the inner man")! What follows next, is more nonsense about drug addiction and related childish psychology. And poor Rosa is more or less out of the picture. Shame, I liked her.

Location:
San Francisco

Body count:
Discounting all the nonsense in various cautionary tales about hoped-up kids killing their family members with baseball bats and such, all that remains at the end is just a single proper corpse.

Object of desire:
Of all the flaws mentioned, I think this is the book's biggest one. What drives our hero for 200 pages is nothing but vanity. He simply cannot get over the fact that he was beaten by some hoodlums.

This guy is so upset that for five weeks can't be bothered to pick up the phone and give a ring to his wife after she has left him with the "chasing gangsters or keeping me" choice.

And there's more to this obsession. He makes a deal with (not just one but two) cops that they would give him 15 minutes alone with the main bad guy before they arrest him. Huh, seriously? Come on!

Blackouts:
Two of them. First time when he's beaten and then again after he manages to drag himself home.

References:
Eddie Schwartz, the "nighthawk elevator man" is reading some story titled "Rape on the Range" in "Spicy Western Stories" magazine. And it didn't sound too bad either. I tried to find it online but it turned out that both the story and magazine are fictitious.  But googling it, I found this cool gallery of spicy westerns scans.

And during the aforementioned shrink session, there's a reference to none other than Othello:

"Let me read you one more clinical report. This is Cassio, who got drunk as a pig and made a fool of himself. Hes says: Oh God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! that we should, with joy, pleasance, revel and applause, transform ourselves into beasts!"
John closed the book with a snap.
"'Transform ourselves,' Whit. Remember it."
"Great little guy, Casio," Whit said. "I know just how he felt. Be sure to send me a bill."

Title: 
Surely, by now, no additional explanation is needed.

Dedicated to:
This book is dedicated to my good friend Joe O'Ferrall

Chief of the Division of Narcotic Enforcement, Department of Justice, State of California, and to the men who work with him.

Edition:
Dell #350

Cover:
Stunning illustration by Gerald Gregg. And in spite of all the above bitching and ranting, I'm keeping this book in my collection until the day I die.

Cool lines:
Nothing really cool, but every now and then you come across some bizarre, WTF stuff like this:

The chief was a middle-aged Irishman with bright pink cheeks, white hair, and electric blue eyes. A strong chin accompanied the patriotic color scheme.

I'll bet a dollar that place is harder to get into without an appointment than an abortionist's operating room.