Thursday, March 31, 2022

Save Them For Violence (James M. Fox, 1959)

It is a Monarch book, so we shouldn't really be surprised by its misogynistic sex & violence cover. After all, the crazier they are, the more we collect them, right?

But what is somehow surprising is that the cover scene actually takes place in the book! But it happens very close to the end, and until then we need to endure a dull story with a bunch of uninteresting characters that are/were hopelessly in love. Monarch delivers on sex as they occasionally do get laid, but they sure don't deliver on sleaze as those scenes are hilariously cheesy and totally safe. See the 'cool lines' section of the facts below.

The plot? I'm not sure to be honest, and it seems that the author himself wasn't sure where he was going with it. It reaches its climax with our cover-girl heroine in distress and the good guys rescuing her. So they come up with this ingenious plan:

"We must depend on Marya to stay alive until we can reach her," Sandor said cryptically.
"Do you have a plan?"
Sandor shrugged. "There can be no plan. But there are two of us - and he is only one."
Grant stared down at the dark temple. "Maybe," he said.

Hilarious shit. Unfortunately, it's just one of the handful of LOL moments. Still, it kind of nicely summarises the whole thing. 

2/5

Facts:

Hero:
John Grant, US Embassy attaché in Mexico City

Dames
John's devoted secretary Elaine Stacey with a big crush on her boss: Cool, attractive, sensible, efficient, and possessed of the most beautiful legs he had ever seen.

But still, John is obsessed with Marya. As everyone else really, and you can read more on the back cover scan. I can only add that she is my kind of gal and the only thing that works in this book.

Location:
Mexico City with some flashbacks to Rome and Romania. Which btw, is repeatedly referred to as Rumania.

Body count:
Only one. I hope this was intentionally ironic because the only guy who dies in this one is the cowardly bodyguard Maderos.

The object of desire:
"In your country, how long would it take for a man to amass four million dollars?"
"With our income tax situation, Raul, I'd say about a hundred and seventy-five years."
Rodriguez snorted. "That's too long."

Blackouts:
/

Cool Blurbs:
Not exactly a blurb, but it says "First Publication In Book Form" on the front page, which got me a bit curious. In what other form could it possible be published anyways!? 

But the revelation follows quickly on the intro page, where it is noted that it is based on a screenplay by Robert C. Dennis and James M. Fox. I unsuccessfully tried to find the movie on IMDB, so it looks like it was never actually filmed. 

Title:
Somehow puzzling. Could it be that the editor had replaced the word "from" with "for" to make it more catchy and aligned with the cover? One of life's big mysteries that we will never find an answer for... But definitely a great candidate for the title that Seagal should consider for his next flick!

Edition:
Monarch #132, September 1959

Cover:
The woman lay helpless on her back, spread-eagled, her hands and feet tied to the tubular iron posts at the four corners of the bed. The upward thrust of her arms stretched her chest muscles taut, pulling her breasts high and erect. Her skirt was bunched around her hips, exposing the sleek nylon columns of her legs.
...
The point of his knife wormed under the bra in the valley between the proud peaks. Threads parted. The last one resisted, broke. With the knife blade he flipped the cups, one by one, to the side.
...
"It is not the same when a woman is tied," she said, her voice low and husky. Her lips parted, and she moistened them with the red tip of her tongue.

Huh? Taut chest muscles? The valley between the proud peaks??

Cool lines:
In the absence of some snappy dialogues and hard-boiled action, let's put some sex here!

The cold air bit into her exposed flesh. Then his hands began to build small fires, activating sensitive nerve ends she had never felt before, and the searing touch of his lips and tongue spread the flame of sensation throughout her body. And at last she felt the driving weight of his assault, and she cried out as she rose to meet him, all self consumed in the frenzy of her need.

Driving weight of his assault?

There was a tantalizing moment in which she held back, soft flesh quivering at the ever bolder urging of his hands, parted lips resisting the bruising demand of his mouth. But at last, with a cry torn from deep in her throat, she yielded herself to him completely. The rhythm of a woman's giving began, the tempo rapidly increasing until it was she who was demanding, she whose fingers raked his back in mindless pain of wanting.

Bruising demand of his mouth? Mindless pain of wanting?

She leaned forward, pale soft lips parting slightly. The thin fabric of her suit pulled taut against surprisingly full breasts, and he saw that she wore no blouse. The fact made him peculiarly conscious of the soft whiteness of her throat.

Soft whiteness of her throat? 

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Self-Made Widow (Philip Race, 1958)

I came across this one while reading an excellent article on convicts-turned-writers in the recent issue of Justin Marriott's one and only Paperback Fanatic. Like always, I discovered lots of exciting stuff and several new books were added to my ever-growing to-do list. Just couldn't pass this one because of its incredibly cool title. Luckily, I could find a nice copy for just a few bucks.

We learn in the article that Elmer Merle Parsons aka Philip Race was a small-time crook, in and out of San Quentin for minor crimes like burglary, car theft, and passing stolen cheques. I know I'm going to sound a bit mean, but his lack of a more severe crime experience is painfully evident in this one. Our hero needs cash badly (expensive wife...), so he ensures himself and - a couple of days later! -  stages his death. The greedy couple's plan is to simply find a bum whose burned corpse will pass as his. Obviously, all they need to do is to swap clothes. To make the identity switch waterproof, Johnny puts his wristwatch on the unfortunate victim. This truly pushes the limits of amateurish crime to new levels.

None of the above is much of a spoiler since it gets explained on the back cover and the first-page teaser.  All this stuff is over by page 70, but we still have 120 more. Turned out these were 120 excruciating pages to go through. Johnny ends up on the skid row, meets his new best friend, falls in love with a hooker with a golden heart, starts playing the piano again,... and finally, fucking finally, gets his revenge.

Dull, predictable, going nowhere fast, with the hero as confused and uncharismatic as Liam Neeson. Skip it.

One last thing! If you have a drinking problem, I strongly advise you against picking this one up as not to get into temptation. They all drink, and they drink constantly and heavily. I'll remember the Self-made Widow for the (funny?) scene in which our hero instructs the cab driver to have a couple of drinks while waiting for him!?!

2.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
Johnny Babcock, not a very successful oil salesman.

Dames
Titular Edna (fire in velvet and fever in silk) is by far the best thing in the book. The way we like our femme fatales - hard, smart, and sexy. Her antithesis is Dee, an ex-hooker (but still with a golden heart) who reminds Johnny of her undying, everlasting love on every single fucking page she appears on.

There's also some silly, amateurish psychological sex angle. There's lots of passion between him and Edna (see below), but with Dee, he cannot get it up at first: "We were discovering each other, a process any young couple knows about." Once they do get it going, the author doesn't detail the act itself (simply, "This was the time"), but he does not spare us from enduring their family planning debate immediately after they finish. If you're curious - there will be four boys and one girl.

Location:
Los Angeles

Body count:
3

The first one is great! After they finish the dirty business, our greedy couple needs some fuel:

I got the bottle. My fingers couldn't handle the cork. I smashed the neck against the door, poured my mouth full of the hot fluid.
"Me, too," Edna said and I handed it to her.

Once invigorated, they have wild sex:

You couldn't call it love. It was too furious, too jerky and savage. A fight, it was, and both of us emerged shaken and exhausted, cramped and weary from twisting in the confined front seat

The object of desire:
A hundred thousand dollars! All the money in the world. No more short end of the stick, no worrying about whether some idiot likes you enough to give you a five-dollar raise. People and places, sweetheart. Clothes, excitement...

Blackouts:
3

References:
The air in the joint was hazy, full of drifting tendrils of smoke; the same music insinuated through the small talk. Except now I know who the piano was - Thelonious Monk. I'd deposited a flock of dimes to make sure the music didn't stop. The tunes were bluesy and wonderfully articulated and suited my mood exactly - complicated and lowdown.

Title:
"A rich widow, darling," Edna said, whispering over the faint music from the car radio, "Rich and beautiful and eager to please."

Edition:
Gold Medal  #s796, First Printing, August 1958

Cover:
Not bad, but not very appropriate as it looks more like a romance, not a mystery novel. According to pulpcovers.com, made by Ernest "Darcy" Chiriacka.

Cool lines:
The drink came and I put it away. It went down like water. Warm water. Question: How much scotch does it take to wash down murder? The man poured and I experimented.

Friday, February 11, 2022

I Get What I Want (Larry Heller, 1956)

This one seems so obscure that it's not even listed on goodreads.com. So yes - I bought it simply for its badass cover and great title. But I did have a good feeling about it, and I'm happy to report that it was justified.

Three-part structure. We start off with the Gil Brewer-ish "boy meets girl" type of story, meaning that our couple ends up in the back of his car on their very first date. On the very first day they meet, I may add. 

The middle part is where the plot thickens. Most of it takes place on a small island where our hero's residence is, so this isolated scenery gives the novel an extra edge and claustrophobic feel. Plus, another shady character enters the picture, so Jeff gets some additional worries besides his (by now) elusive love interest and her shady uncle.

By this point, it is all nicely set up for the final part that kicks off triggered by an accidental death of some local asshole (or was it really accidental?), and this is also where a nice twist takes place. The plot sidetracks a bit, and the author makes quite a savage attack on the small-town mentality. And I don't mean savage just figuratively because our hero is on the wrong end of the brutal beating (three pages!) by a local cop. Very hard-boiled and very good. After this nice little detour, the main plotline resumes and reaches its climax in a standoff on a small boat in the middle of the ocean. I've already used the words isolated and claustrophobic, right?

Nothing extraordinary about this one, but everything is a bit above average. I really liked it, and I'm keeping it in my collection. Not just for its badass cover.

4/5

Facts:

Hero:
Jeff Tucker - an ordinary guy without much worry in the world. Until Letty comes along...


Bad guy(s):
You can read about Buster on the back cover, but let's not forget Daly - "a crafty son of a bitch".

Dames
We have Helen Anders, his girlfriend with "a quiet, delicate mouth that was serene without being placid", but it's all about Letty, really. Once more, see the back cover for the details, but in short: "I don't know what it was, but the impact of this girl was incredible."

Location:
A small Florida fishing town called Sanibar, just off the Gulf of Mexico. Surrounded by the red tide - the ocean full of dead fish killed by some sort of a red germ. A nice touch that gives the novel an unsettling morbid feel of isolation and entrapment.

Body count:
3

Object of desire:
See the 'dames' section

Blackouts:
Jeff is a pretty tough guy, but he gets kicked around a lot in this one. It starts with a fight with some local drunk who harassed Letty (see the 'cover' section below) but on that occasion, he manages to "still cling to a thin edge of consciousness".

The first proper one happens when he's so lovesick that he drinks himself into oblivion and picks up a fight with some lads in a bar: "I can't remember anything but clash, chaos, and violence - and a great dark segment of wheeling sky in which the stars glittered like crushed glass."

Then comes the savage beating I mentioned earlier. Somehow, he's able to crawl away, and then "...somebody touched me on the shoulder and I screamed"

The last one happens in the final scene, where he confronts the bad guy. Jeff is armed with the speargun, and the other one has a gun - "I heard the zing of the released spear just before I passed out".

References:
I ordered two extra-dry martinis, and the waiter walked away with that kind of placid dignity they have in better restaurants where they know their tips will run at least twenty percent. He looked a little like Charles Boyer.
"He looks like Charles Boyer," I said to Letty.
"So what?" She kept making those crosses on the table-cloth.
"And that woman over there by the window, she looks like Greer Garson. If the bartender turns out to be Humphrey Bogart, we're in Key Largo."
"Very funny. Ha, ha."

And I agree with Letty. It's not very funny, especially since neither Boyer nor Garson is cast in Key Largo.

Title:
Very cool sounding but doesn't really relate to anybody or anything particular in the book.

Edition:
Popular Library #760, July 1956

Cover:
It's not a bottle, but an empty beer mug:

He was pretty drunk and hanging on her like an old overcoat. His right hand was in the small of her back, and he must have been trying to pull her in close because she arched away from him and turned a little, evading the knee he sought to push between her legs.
I pushed back my chair, but it was all over before I could get to my feet. Letty reached out, picked up an empty beer mug from the top of the juke box, and rapped him on the back of the head with it. She turned and walked away from him while he was staggering in dazed circles. She came back to the table and sat down.

Cool lines:
"I'll get you some day. You're going to trip again, and this time I'll get you for sure. And when they fry you," his eyes were mad, "I'll put a pan under you and catch the grease. And the next day I'll eat my pancakes in it!"

Thursday, January 27, 2022

I Like it Tough (James Howard, 1955)

Do not be fooled (like I was) into thinking that the cover blonde likes it tough. Nope, that would be our hero Steve Ashe. At least this is the way he sees himself and you can read the details on the back cover. I do have a few reservations though. The guy practically suffers a nervous breakdown after his first kill and runs crying to his girlfriend because he "had to see someone - anyone he could talk to". 

It gets better (worse?) - after the coffee (and not much talk btw), he finds himself on the couch, unable to sleep because his victim's terrified silent screams haunt him. Sure enough, his gal Fran is there to console him, and soon one thing leads to another but only to abruptly stop:

Suddenly all emotion drained out of him. Passion and gratitude, fear and anger were all gone, leaving only a great weariness. "I'm sorry, Fran," he heard himself mumble, as though from a long way off.
Just before sleep came, he found words again.
"You're a hell of a lot of woman," he said.
Then he was asleep.

Tough? Not in my book, you are not Stevie boy. And I hate to tell you this, but you also overcomplicate even the simplest things. Like buying a car, for example:

"Well, here's the set-up. We go to the first lot we can find and take a car out to try it. With that car we hunt up a second lot and one of us takes a car from there, each driving one while we return to the first one. Then on to the third lot and so on."
"Sounds like a fast way to shop."
"It is, and it saves a lot of cab fare and conversation. When I find what I want, then we'll stop and deal."
They followed the program Steve had outlined. It took about two hours and a considerable portion of man-and-undecided-wife dialogue before they left the seventh lot in a powerful sedan. It was Sylvia's calculated indecision which resulted in the price of the car coming down to a reasonable level.

Seven used cars lots in two hours!? 

Unfortunately, the criminals are also way too imaginative. The name of the game in this one is cocaine, and the smugglers pack the drugs wrapped around with ping pong balls and then dump them close to the shore, where they get collected by the skin diver. In shark-infested waters, I may add. Huh? Why not simply hand them over to the guy and have a beer or two? You can still use the trick with dumping drugs into the water, but only as a failsafe if you get raided by the cops. It's not exactly rocket science, and we have all seen Leone's Once Upon a Time in America, haven't we?

So it's not surprising that it runs for over 170 pages. But on the other hand, it's surprising that it runs for only 170 pages. It would have been twice as long if it weren't for some incredible coincidences and implausible story development. Without going too much into details (life's too short), I'll only mention that upon arriving in L.A., our Steve knows four people living in this megacity and half of them turn out to be the leaders of the mighty "syndicate"...

It may sound crazy enough to be funny, but it's not. It's just bad. Dull, unlikable characters trapped together with the reader in the plot that makes little sense. It doesn't even feel like some hastily put together yarn to pay the rent money. Instead, I had a feeling that the author put considerable effort into it. But it simply doesn't work.

But let us finish this on a positive note. I'll let you in on the secret about how can you tell whether your kids are addicted to pot. 

"How do you know it's marijuana?"
"He has no sense of time - doesn't remember the passage of time or the sequence of things that happened. With marijuana, that's the surest sign. If he were on anything stronger he wouldn't have the drunken appearance, either."

You're welcome.

2/5

Facts:

Hero
:
See the back cover for how our hero describes himself. And below is how his nemesis perceives him:

"Obviously our information about you was correct. You are shrewd, perceptive and difficult to handle, just as we had been advised."

He's one of the vanishing race - an idealist. A hundred years ago he'd have been somebody's ranger. A thousand years ago he'd have gone off to wrestle some Saracen prince two falls out of three for the Holy Land.

The bad guy(s):
#2 is a disillusioned intellectual who "starved through nine years to get a doctorate in business and economics at Midwestern

Dames
Vicki aka victim #1 
Gorgeous legs, a face for cold cream ads and a model's figure.

Sylvia Proatczek aka Spanish Annie
She had been a bright and personable girl, but her good qualities hadn't helped. Now she was hard, fighting furiously and blindly at the unyielding but unheeding town... Desirable in a hard sort of way

And if you were wondering about the Spanish Annie thing - it's a local jargon for a three-peso "item" well within the budget for almost anyone.

Frances Olson
The physical description would have appealed to anyone... Under the tailored tan jacket her breasts were firm and beautifully proportioned. Her legs were shapely and she used them well.

Dolores
Steve estimated that she was just past thirty, and that her short-cropped hennaed hair was several shades from its natural color. She was of a type common in the Hollywood district - good-looking enough to have nearly hit the big time, but carrying the scars which came from not having made it.

Our hero does score with Sylvia. I'm mentioning this only because it concludes the one true real laugh-out-loud, maybe even a bit kinky episode of the book. After his fiancé Vicki gets killed, Steve undertakes a 37-day Spartan regime before he sets off for his vendetta. But when he tracks down his man in some small town, he realizes that the asshole is quite a ladies man. And the realization makes him horny!?! I kid you fucking not, check this:

Steve cursed himself silently for the pressure of his own needs, built during his month of monasticism since his release from the hospital. He cursed the fact that his desire could be awakened by the knowledge that another man had found a woman, even in this dry desert town.

So much for the mourning of the love of his life. What an asshole!

Location:
It starts in a couple of small towns in Colorado called Lamar and Las Animas but then moves pretty quickly to L.A., where it also concludes.

Body count:
Corpse #1 probably doesn't qualify because it is a part of the previous Ashe adventure, which would be "I'll Get You Yet", published a year before this one. But it's so outrageous and funny that it deserves an honorary mention. Check this: the bad guy gets thrown from a horse into a nest of rattlesnakes!

The official first one is not bad either. Ashe's fiancée opens a package with a planted bomb, and the blast nearly tears her in two. For the next one, we need to wait for 100+ pages, and it is Vito - the killer who made Steve horny. The way this poor schmuck dies involves an incredibly complicated ploy that finishes with him and a shark. Or better said, with him inside the shark. 

The next one is Jimmy the pusher, who kills himself because he is mortally afraid of the syndicate killing him???

And a final shootout that leaves three cold bodies.

So, altogether it's 6

The object of desire:
I'm not out to kill Vito. For a long time I thought that's what I wanted; I wanted to beat his brains out with my own hands. Now I know better. UI want the men above him. You've got a full-scale vice and narcotics operation with headquarters here. I want to help you break it.

Blackouts:
It opens with Steve being admitted into the hospital where he promptly blacks out. But, like the first killing, this too is a part of the recap of the previous book, so it doesn't really count.

References:
I've often wondered why artists have so much self-pity. You have a national reputation, equal to Norman Rockwell's. Your work is known and respected, yet you find nothing to do but drink.

Title:
See the back cover scan.

Dedicated to:
To A.C. - the model for Rogers Ashe

No, it's not a typo - Rogers is Steve's father. But who might the mysterious A.C. be?

Edition:
Popular Library - Giant #6404, January 1960

Cover:
Gorgeous one by Harry Schaare. He's not credited but you can see the signature at the bottom.

Also adding another one that I nicked from pulpcovers.com and that actually depicts the scene in which Steve runs into Dolores for the first time.

Interesting, seems like the same model was used for both covers.

Cool lines:
If one thing makes reading this book bearable, it would be its occasionally silly and slightly pretentious style with some genuine acrobatic language usages. Some of these below are beyond hilarious!

They looked at each other with the functional dumbness that comes to people with much to say and no words to fit the need.

The voice had the easy flexibility of a well-used razor strop.

Steve had recoiled with the sudden vehemence of Phil's verbal onslaught.

For a full minute Steve engaged in the useless luxury of unchecked profanity.

Steve ate slowly, sparingly, remembering that a full belly could produce the placidity and self-satisfaction he could not afford.

Beneath her white nylon blouse her breasts leaped free of the confining coat like two liberated animals.

Monday, June 28, 2021

No Angels For Me (William Ard, 1954)

No messing around in this one. No hero's background, no family shit, etc. It opens with our main man Luke identifying the corpse of his gumshoeing colleague and then it follows the genre's established rules. At least for a while.

It's one of those in which the investigation will be based on a list. Four names (suspects?) in this particular case and very soon things get quite complicated. But not so much that one can't follow even though not everything makes sense all the time.

As it moves on, a slightly annoying element of an amateur sleuth in form of the victim's kid sister Gloria is introduced. To make things worse, she's in love with our hero. Always has been... But to make things better straight away, it's not one of the usual silly puritanical romances. She's pretty cool (see the 'Cool Lines' section below) and, believe it or not, Luke and Gloria will actually end up in bed. Unmarried! And not just once, but twice.

In the meantime, the plot thickens further. Luke's boss has some secretive phone calls with the recently widowed wife of his other (obviously, now ex) investigator. So far pretty standard stuff and not bad at all. We are now approximately three-quarters through and expecting this to slowly unravel. 

Wrong. It's actually about to really start!

After the second blackout (details, as always in the 'Blackouts' section below) Luke goes into some sort of a hyperactive berserker mode. He kills one (probably two) of his captors, storms into a club where he kills another dude, steals a million bucks worth of diamonds (safe was left open for some reason), and kidnaps beautiful Marta!!!

If this was what they wanted, this is what they would get.

Huh? 

Believe it or not, it gets better still. He drives back to his flat but only to realize that the bad guys are waiting for him there. Which, btw shouldn't really have surprised him all that much since he just stole a shitload of  (technically theirs) diamonds. A high-speed chase follows on the busy streets of New York during which he gets so scared that at one point actually closes his eyes while driving through the red light! I think this was my favourite part. Simply priceless!

Craziness continues. Once he manages to lose his pursuers, he drives to Gloria's flat where they have a quickie while Marta (remember - the hostage) sleeps peacefully in the bedroom. After such a hectic night Luke simply goes to sleep. He'll take care of those diamonds in the morning.

And in the morning it will get even better but this post is (once again) running too long so I'd better wrap it up. And leave it to you to check it out.

Hilarious stuff, I loved it! What the hell was Ard thinking? Was the deadline really so tight that he couldn't make a quick revision of this madness? But then again, if this was revised, I somehow don't think it would be so memorable.

4/5

Facts:

Hero:
Luke MacLane, private investigator

Dames
A kid-turned-woman Gloria, all-but-insatiable nymphomaniac Helen, and Didi with enough height to distribute her comfortable-looking weight. All cool, beautiful, and interesting but still, blown away by beautiful Marta who is in a class all by itself:

She was neither tall nor short, only beautiful. A beautiful, black-haired, sloe-eyed woman who generated sexual excitement with every lithe movement of her magnificent figure.

Location:
New York and New Jersey

Body count:
4 confirmed and 2 very probable as Luke in his frenzy doesn't even bother to check whether they are dead or not

The object of desire:
"Diamonds. They insured a shipment for something called the Jewelers Exchange. The shipment disappeared off the pier. Two million dollars' worth of precious stones - gone into thin air."
MacLane's eyes were puzzled, but before he could voice the question, Heenahan's raised hand stopped him.
"We aren't hired to recover anything. Fidelis smells an inside job and all they want us to do is probe gently, nose around without any excitement and especially no gunplay."

No gunplay? Yeah, right!

Blackouts:
Two of them, none really remarkable. The first one is a standard blow from behind:

He stepped noiselessly inside, and from the sharp pain that seared the base of his skull, Luke thought the pier itself had crashed down on top of him.

And on the second occasion they slip a mickey in his whiskey:

Luke was helped through the drape but that was as far as his legs were going to carry him. As he swayed toward the floor, his last conscious thought was of Didi Marsh. And in the room the band played on.

But what deserves mentioning is the way he comes out. He awakes with his hands tied behind his back and guarded by a couple of hoods. When they are about to shoot him they spot that they had tied him using some complicated sailor knot which could lead the cops back to them. So they untie Luke and he seizes this opportunity to set himself free.

Great stuff and definitely in the top 10 of miracle rescues! Or at least in the top 10 of most original ones... Are these two guys consummate professionals or are they just plain stupid? 

References:
A burlesque song he had first heard in his teens, then again in a Yokohama music hall. It was the one that goes, "I've got what you want, mister - something you don't get from your sister" - and it ends up that she's talking about a drink.

That sounds fun so I - of course - googled it and came up with a bunch of siblings bullying and abuse links. So much for Google's artificial intelligence...

Title:
Don't really know how to interpret it. There's some high-brow talk about the angels though:

"It's a rough, dirty business," Luke said. "You don't meet any angels."
"Then why was George in it? Why are you?"
MacLaine turned his head and looked at her.
"I don't know about your brother," he told her. "But I'm no angel myself."
"Neither am I," the girl said tensely. "Not when it comes to finding the person who killed George."

Edition:
Popular Library #591, June 1954

Cover
:
Simply stunning, probably one of my favourites ever. Nothing special really - a guy with a gun and a beautiful woman with a cigarette... but it simply works. Pure noir.

Not credited and no visible signature. Any ideas?

Cool lines:
"Oh, Luke!" a woman cried.
Oh, hell, he thought.

"I think maybe the man needs a drink," she said.
"No. One wouldn't be enough. The taste in my mouth is too strong."
"Maybe a woman would help. A willing one, Luke, who wouldn't talk too much."

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Sin in Their Blood (Ed Lacy, 1952)

If such a sub-genre as left-wing pulp fiction exists, this one would be its prime example. Not only it does not shy away from themes of communist paranoia, anti-war sentiment, racism, homophobia, and feminism, but it actually uses these social issues as the plot devices. Cool and smart. But make no mistake - "Sin in Their Blood" is far from some liberal rambling. It's a terrific hard-boiled thriller.

Lacy really could write. This is only his third novel, but it reads like it was penned down by a seasoned professional. Simple is beautiful - fast pacing, a straightforward plot that's easy to follow but still offers a few nice twists, intriguing multi-faceted characters, and excellent use of dialogues. Our guy is no testosterone-driven superhero so instead of the usual flashy one-liners, we have plenty of more subtle lines that effectively create the atmosphere. Again, cool and smart.

It's not faultless. There are several slightly far-fetched coincidences and some not-easy-to-swallow plot developments. Can a cop really bring along his friend to the scene of a crime? Furthermore, is it normal for this cop to offer his buddy's services (our hero is an ex-private dick) to the main suspect?

But let's not dwell too much on these minor issues and instead pretentiously speculate that the author simply made a tradeoff (or two) in order to quicken the plot progress. 

No masterpiece but still a very interesting and enjoyable page-turner. This is my 3rd or 4th Lacy and I'm beginning to think that this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship and not just a brief acquaintance. Seems like the two of us will be spending more time together as this guy was quite prolific and his stuff is pretty affordable on eBay. So stay tuned.

4.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
He told the clerk, “Matt here was the toughest private dick in town.”
“Well, well,” the clerk said in a deadpan voice that must be an occupational disease with hotel clerks.
“He was a rough cookie. Say, every time I see this Humphrey Bogart doing his stuff in the movies I say to myself, them Hollywood jokers ought to get Matt Ranzino on the screen and really see a rough clown in action.”

But again, do not be fooled. When we first meet Matt he's just a confused hypochondriac with the mysterious "bug" in his lungs. Tuberculosis or the guilty conscience he carries for killing kids and women in Korea? Interestingly, Lacy uses a similar metaphor with imaginary (?) cancer in his "The Men from the Boys" that followed this one a few years later.

Anyway, the plot moves on and with it, our hero's character develops too. I'd say that in his first transformation he goes from being numb to simply not giving a flying fuck. There's a great WTF moment early on after he starts working on the case:

Maybe I should have told Max about the water being off—not that it was conclusive proof of anything, still it could be enough for a starter, a real investigation. But what would that get me? I didn't give a damn about the case, who killed who, didn't want to get on it in the first place. Max was happy, so was Saxton, and I had two hundred bucks and was tired.

Huh? So much for the P.I. working relentlessly on the case and fighting fearlessly for the Lady Justice. But don't worry, he will find redemption and peace of sorts at the end. To conclude this section, I can only say that Matt Ranzino is a great guy and spending a couple of hours in his company was great fun.

The bad guy(s):
Thatcher Austin isn't exactly THE baddest guy but he's definitely the weirdest one and I must admit that I couldn't help liking him. Or did I simply feel sorry for the poor schmuck? He's fanatically obsessed with communism and with his meticulous filing of any kind of information on subversive "red scare" activity, references to Hoover and McCarthy are of course unmissable. Must have been quite daring to publish this stuff in 1952 and I would guess it certainly didn't help make sales better.

Dames
We have Flo and we have Mady and they present our hero's past and present respectively. Both cool and interesting but even though Flo is a "sensual blonde", I think I'd rather hang out with Mady:

“Mady's a good kid, but with a lot of spirit, and that gets her in trouble because guys don't understand it.”
“What kind of spirit—besides the bottled ones?”
“Independence. She's on this equality for women line like some people get religion."

And Matt seems to share my sentiment about Flo:

The months hadn't hurt Flo. She still had the fluffy blond hair, the sensuous mouth, and her chic dress proved beyond any doubt she had a full figure and wasn't wearing a bra. Her firm full breasts seemed to be held at the nipples, like two jack-in-the-boxes, waiting to spring over the low-cut dress. But I really wasn't looking at her fleshy bosom or the long shapely legs and the bit of round thigh that showed as she sprawled on the couch—I was only watching that over-red mouth, afraid of it.

Location:
See the "Dedicated to" section below.

Body count:
3

The object of desire:
“Let's get this over. What do you want?”
“To convict you—get you out of my hair for good. Too many of your kind in the world these days. Everywhere I turn I see the smug, self-righteous, self-appointed...” I stopped. There wasn't any point in making a speech. 

Blackouts
:
After killing the entire family of peasants in Korea, he blacks out and then awakes three days later in a Tokyo hospital with "the fever that puzzled the hell out of the docs". It wouldn't really puzzle me, but anyway, this one doesn't really count, does it? We do need to wait for the proper blackout almost until the end:

I heard the faint swish the gun made through the air. A flash of terribly bright pain swept over me and then I was drowning in heavy mushy darkness.

I must have been out a long time. When I came to I thought I was still up in the clouds... I was naked and hanging from the doorway by my wrists, which were roped to pipes some place on the bathroom wall.

But only now his ordeal really begins. The killer wants to disguise the murder as an accident so he savagely beats him in and out of consciousness several times. Which of course is bad enough, but the really nasty part is that between the beatings he lets the freezing cold draft into the apartment so that Matt's lungs would finally collapse. Nasty, sadistic stuff. 

References:
For the obvious one, see the "Bad Guy" section. 

And there are a couple of other interesting ones worth mentioning. The concept of the two best cops buddies that have met in the department boxing champ will sound very familiar to James Ellroy's fans and the con game from The Sting is described here to the minutest details.

Title:
It's cool sounding but I must admit that its meaning eludes me. Don't expect some heavy Ross Macdonald type of family tragedy in which sins usually flow in abundance in everyone's veins.

Dedicated to:
No dedication but there's this somewhat peculiar introduction:

This book is entirely a work of fiction. All incidents, characters, names and places are made-up and not based on any actual persons or places. But the type of murder on which this story is based has actually taken place many times in the past and, unfortunately, even in the present.

Interesting, but this introduction is omitted from the eBook version that I have.

Edition:
MacFadden MB 50-255, 1966

Cover
:
See the "Blackouts" section. 

Cool lines:
Max bent down to get his pint out—why do they always keep it in the bottom drawer? The top would be more convenient—and I said, “Not for me.”

Harry shrugged. “I didn't make the laws. All I know is it's legal, patriotic, and pays off. People are scared, worse than during Prohibition. Hell, now people are scared to even look at a sunset any more—it's red.”

Sunday, April 11, 2021

No Business for a Lady (James L. Rubel, 1950)

Another blonde (don't let the cover fool you) bombshell private eye, but this one is very different from Mavis Seidlitz whom we had the pleasure of meeting in the previous post. For this one, I'm still a bit on the fence.

It's most definitely no page-turner. The plot is based on some pretty ludicrous premise and the story progresses painfully slow as our heartbroken heroine runs around pretty much with no apparent (or at least working) plan about solving the case. We need to wait for 100 pages for the first (and the only one) corpse!? One thing that helped me pass time was counting occurrences of the word "love".

But on the other hand, I have found Miss Donovan to be a really interesting lady, far from some stereotypical blonde bimbo. Sure, I prefer to have my private detectives more hard-boiled but in this one, the lack of toughness and witty one-liners is well compensated with well defined and developed character. Eli is an ex-burlesque girl (!), ex-Marine (!!) who needs no man to take care of her and has her life priorities all figured out. Check out the 'title' section of the facts below and you'll see what I mean,

And to return to the plotline - yes, it is a bit bonkers and not very plausible but at the same time it's at least original and there are some twists and turns towards the end. The final revelation makes sense which is something we cannot really say for some of these old paperbacks we are addicted to, right?

Hardly my cup of tea, but still I'm glad I've checked it out. It seems like one of those unfortunate ones that were simply ahead of its time. Not just because it has a female protagonist but also because of its feminist angle (again, check out the 'title' section below). I suspect the publishers didn't quite know how to promote it as the first edition's cover portrays a damsel in distress which Eli is most definitely not. It took Gold Medal eight (!) years to reprint it and the second time around they gave it a more proper illustration. Who knows how the sales would have been affected if these two covers were reversed...

3.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
From the front cover:
Meet Miss Donovan, the only private eye who wears mascara. She's easily the most beautiful shamus living.

From the back cover:
Most detectives have angles, but here's one who has curves.

Dames
See the 'hero' section.

Location:
L.A.

Body count:
1

Blackouts:
The first time she faints is due to the hangover she has over too many Sazaracs. Absinthe + whiskey? Ouch! She surely can be forgiven.

Then we have a couple of proper ones:

Something heavy and enveloping dropped over my head, the gun was wrenched from my hand, and the blackness exploded into blazing light. The light faded into a whirling dervish of stars that spun faster and faster until they too were blacked out by utter darkness.

And:

The room was suddenly filled with thunder. The bottle broke off at the neck and I smelled vodka. After that my knees were too weak to hold me any longer. I went back into my cocoon for another rest.

Yes, indeed she is a hard-working gal who deserves her fee!

Cool Blurbs:
See the 'hero' section.

Title:
"This is no business for a lady."
I shook my head and smiled at him. He was a swell friend and I liked him. But he hadn't analyzed me correctly. I liked men. I loved they whistled when they saw me. I was still young and I had a lot of years ahead of me before my hair turned gray, my face got lined, and the whistling stopped. I couldn't picture myself living in semipoverty surrounded by wet diapers and screaming infants. Maybe someday I'd be lucky enough to meet the right man. Until I did-?
I said, "Sorry, Bill. But I'm no lady."

Edition:
Gold Medal #765, Second Printing, May 1958

Cover:
No credit is given to the illustrator and there's no signature I could locate. This time even the ever-reliable pulpcovers.com can't help. Any ideas?

Cool lines:
For the final time, see the 'title' section