Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Dead are Discreet (Arthur Lyons, 1974)

It starts very promising, in the best tradition of the old school hard-boiled tradition: Los Angeles, movie stars, porn business, occultism, phony religious leaders... Our hero too is (stereo)typical P.I. - he is a bit hanged-over when he gets hired by some hot-shot lawyer. We soon learn that he used to be a reporter but was not only fired but had actually served time for not revealing his sources. So we know that he's a honorable man, man of integrity. There's a nice episode, a bit Marlowe-esque, when some asshole tries to bribe him with 5 grand. He's tempted but instead chooses to drink it away: "By the time I was down to the bottom of the cup, the check had stopped glowing... I repeated the sequence ... and the check was gone."

Very good start, written with lots of skill and style. Not forcing or overdoing it at all, just taking its time to introduce the characters and lay plot's foundation. Real page turner, I was definitely hooked!

But then came chapter 11 (of 21) which starts with: "By the following Wednesday, I had checked out most of my leads and come up with a big, fat zero."

Okay, it's not exactly the end of the world and our Jake is certainly not the first detective to be stuck in the case, but still - WTF!? And then it gets from not-very-good to bad to even worse. His detective skills are pathetic and almost non existent. For an example: for no apparent reason he tails a guy who was together with a victim when she had a car accident some time ago (not even related to the case). This dude meets another guy and our lost hero just decides to start tailing that one.

Shit like this becomes obvious even to Jake and at the start of 17th chapter he is so confused that he tries to summarize situation, but fails to do so and simply concludes that "There was something else, some unconscious, instinctual force that had a ring in my nose and was pulling me along, and that was what bothered me. I never did believe in playing hunches, but that was what I was doing."

So to conclude - it just turns from the first rate mystery into the third rate thriller. The only thrill I felt was to finish this damn book as soon as possible. Ending is pretty okay though, didn't see it coming.

4.5 for the first 10 chapters and 1.5 for the remaining 11 results in 2.92 but I'll round it up because of the good ending.



Jacob 'Jake' Asch, P.I.


Body count
2 at the start and only one more later

Sheila Warren, the victim. Gloria Pilsen, her sister. Sasha, "more of a bitch than a witch". Allison Shaw, the actress.

Two. And both of them in the same chapter! First one is pretty standard: "There was a lot of pain and a lot of light flooding in my head all at once - too much to think about, so my brain decided to go to sleep for a while." Second one is more nasty as he gets kicked in the balls: "My body convulsed and the pain instantly filled my intestines, then my stomach. I vomited and passed out." Ouch!!!

Cool but its meaning escapes me no matter how hard I try to understand it.

Cool photo of an old car but its relation to the story escapes me no matter how hard I try to understand it.

Cool lines:  
When she turned and smiled, her eyes said things. One of the things they said was that the martini in her hand was not the first one she had had today.

Recollections moved across his face swiftly, like steel balls in a pinball machine trying to hit 500-point pocket.

He looked at me as if I were a blood-rare steak he had ordered well done and had already sent back twice.[The Coolest!]

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Too Many Women (Rex Stout, 1948)

Nero Wolfe, obese NYC detective, is hired by some big ass company to investigate shady circumstances surrounding accidental hit-and-run death of one of their employees. His assistant Archie Goodwin is at first reluctant and doesn't really take the case seriously (It wasn't a lead pencil leak, it was murder.) but eventually he's persuaded by the big fat paycheck (Naylor-Kerr is good for anything up to twenty million). Archie then 'infiltrates' this company and ends up among 500 women (clean, young, healthy, friendly, spirited, beautiful and ready - it was an ocean of opportunity) who are all suspects. Kind of. Throw into the pot scheming of top executives and their family ties and we have a mystery. 

This is definitely my least hard-boiled, non-noir of the year. It's kind of Agatha fucking Christie written for housewives so they can be amused by witty dialogs and naughty gags (slightly sexists if you ask me). Don't get me wrong  - style is okay but I got fed up with it after few chapters. Especially because story doesn't move anywhere (a corpse per 100 pages) and more than once I had a feeling that writer was more concerned about his characters than he was with a plot. Which gets totally stuck after one week and then great detective forces its development by simply:

"We have no clues at all. Literally none.  ... "
"What do we do when we have no clues? Do you know?" 
"No sir" 
"We make one"

Truly brilliant. So they fake some evidence and case is solved. I just wished they would do so some 50 pages sooner...

Apparently 33 Nero Wolfe novels were published but this is definitely my last one. It's not bad but it's just not my style. And by glancing through reviews on Amazon I was a bit surprised to find out I'm the only one who dislikes this.



Archie Goodwin (brilliant lieutenant according to Gazette), Nero Wolfe

New York

Body count: 3 (also counting one suicide)

Miss Hester Livsey - "...she was in some kind of trouble, real trouble that no one but you would understand and no one but you could help her out of."

Rosa Bendini who "knew her way about."

Blackouts: none

Pretty cool, I think it was reason why I'd bought this in a first place.

Cool lines:  
Receptionist was away past  the deadline, having reached the age when it is more blessed to receive than to give.

"I ought to warn you that his charges have not joined in the post-war inflation because they were already so high that a boost would have been vulgar."

[when identifying a corpse ran by the car] 
It was unquestionably him, when you had made the mental adjustment required by the transformation of a sphere into a disc.[The Coolest!]

"You must be aware that she is completely devoid of intellect, and therefore that her opinion on any subject whatever is without value. She is not a moron, but the quality of her brain is distinctly inferior."[The Coolest!]

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Miami Blues (Charles Willeford, 1984)

Needs to be said that start was not most promising.It begins with this psychopath asshole killing a Hare Krishna guy by breaking his finger. I kid you not, this sissy actually dies from the shock of getting his fucking finger broken!? So we have one less airport beggar in this world and one not very convincing prologue to a crime novel. Which right away becomes even less plausible because this same psycho asshole hires a hooker who turns out to be a deceased guy's sister. Later on (pg. 42 to be precise) there's an information that Miami has 1.5 million residents so you can calculate yourself the odds of this actually happening.

It sounds like a bit of mess but it's anything but that. Quite opposite actually - we are dealing with masterfully constructed thriller. When homicide detective Hoke Moseley starts to investigate this unusual murder, he himself becomes chased party in a "cat and mouse" game. So this is not classical whodunit but much more WTF is going to happen next. Totally tense and suspenseful story, told in 3rd person in alternating chapters from the perspectives of (mostly) our two main protagonists.

But still as great as the story and narrative are, this novel is foremost characters driven. Central one is of course Hoke, rather washed-up detective. And I truly can't remember the last time I've came across such a likeable protagonist. He's just the coolest! 42 years of age, divorced with two little daughters. And he's not moaning and bitching about missing them or (usual) shit like that. His only problems about this is that every other of his paychecks goes to them leaving him more or less broke and forcing him to live in a cheap hotel where he's performing duties of a house dick. There's a delightful episode when he unexpectedly gets some (pretty obviously) dirty money and he doesn't hesitate one second about it - he goes straight to a local bar to settle his 100$ tab. "Fuck where it came from. I need it, and I can use it."" Great stuff, no moral dilemmas there! He's also not the best detective in the world and it's actually somehow scared of his unpredictable and violent opponent. But he can be though as his new partner has experienced. The part (pg. 200) where he explains poor and unfortunate Ellita Sanchez her position in their relationship (hierarchy) is simply hilarious, I've reread it three times!

I could go on and on about our main man Hoke (didn't even mention his false teeth!) but I mustn't neglect others. Susan is great as a simple, greedy and stupid whore living in a "platonic-marriage" with Junior. And he himself is a star on his own. It's astonishing how Willeford manages to picture him as a total sociopath in the first two pages of the book. Later stuff with buying Frisbees and tossing them to himself is brilliant and I wouldn't be surprised if it was taken from some psychological study! And it's equally amazing that somehow this really mean motherfucker is sympathetic throughout the book.

Writing is in the league of its own. Hot and sweaty Miami makes a great background and adds something special to the atmosphere. And while one would easily expect that this kind of stuff would be full of some macho language and/or wise cracking, it's surprisingly tight and almost dull. And as such it's perfectly aligned with Hoke's character and his mechanical and pretty much emotion-less police work and personal problems. And speaking about police work - the way they crack that family slaughter case is just - once more - brilliant, isn't it?

Authentic, funny, at times brutal and ... simply just really cool. I'm totally hooked on Hoke!



Detective Hoke Moseley

Miami - where "It wasn't enough that Carter had destroyed the city by sending in all the refugees, Reagan was importing ex-cons from California."

Body count
4 + another 4 in unrelated massacre + 1 child murder in another unrelated case + 1 at the end. Maybe unrelated or maybe prologue to the next book in the series?

Susan Waggoner - "Is she really that dumb, or is it an act of some kind?"

Yes, Junior beats the living shit out of him: "The jaw cracked audibly, and blood poured from Hoke's nose and mouth."

Pretty fitting. Miami plays a major role in building up "blues" atmosphere.

Nice, colorful illustration of Miami. Author not credited.

Cool lines:  
There was no way that Mendez could be his real name. With that bronze tan, he looked like an Afrika Corps Nazi, and it was definitely a tan, not dark skin.

The mentholated smoke tasted wonderful. A man would be a fool to give up smoking altogether.
[The Coolest!]

But any way Hoke looked at it, the quality of life in Miami would be improved immeasurably now that Freddy Frenger was no longer out on the streets...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Retribution (Van Lacey, 1959)

Brad Connor, no-name and nobody kind of guy is minding his own business when someone tries to kill him. He survives the attempt but his good friend Matt is not so lucky. They both have just one enemy in common but he's supposed to be dead - Henri Rheims, sadistic asshole and devil himself reincarnated, was a prison warden in a Japanese camp where they were held captives and he had died in a fire when camp was liberated. Is it possible that he had survived and is now looking for a revenge? And for a retribution!

The answer is of course yes. And not only he has survived the fire, he came to the States to expand his criminal activities. He is now  Jonathan Byrd, host of sinister parties where he is drugging prominent scientists (with marijuana!, sic) in order to reveal their findings about H-bomb developments that he can sell to Russians. The only obstacle on his path are potential witnesses who could recognize him. So they must die.

This is a basic premise and as you could probably figure it out yourself, it represents quite a problem.I somehow still cannot understand why would someone go through all the trouble of killing two guys (plus framing another one for murder!) who are convinced that he's dead in the first place!?? Especially - we learn that later - because he had completely changed his appearance in the meantime.

I think some more skilful writer could still pull something better out of this. But everything else is also so fucking sloppy and amateurish. There's no real reason (or need) for the Marie's character and development of their relationship is at best unnecessary and at worst ridiculous. Similar could be said for Hagen, GI man who gets involved in the case. Detective skills of two combined are pretty pathetic (I suspect something, yes. I don't know what. I wish i did.) and I cannot see why they needed to fly to LA to just interview a guy. Surely there were phones in America in late 50s?

It has some bright points worth mentioning though. Brilliant touch is that body of Matt is found in the morgue. Now how cool and original is that!? It really gave me high hopes at the beginning of some intriguing mystery. Another thing I enjoyed was a heavy use of slang as we do get more than decent dosage of dames and reefers and coppers, bad guys are heeled (=armed) and so on. I think my favorite one was: "She fished a mirror out of her white leather bag and okayed herself".

But dialogs are far too scarce. And so it is action (app 100 pages between corpses), so reading this was struggle sometimes.



Brad Connor

New York, briefly also L.A. and Chicago

Body count: 4

Evie the nurse. Marie the reporter. But "Dames'll be bad medicine kid, because the case is hot."

Cool, comic book kind of art style. But not too accurate - Brad gets a shot at through window but he is not actually hit.

Three of them - in fact book starts with one. On second occasion "ammunition truck exploded up above my left eye. I was out." and last one "I node-dived headlong into the cellar of limp oblivion."

Cool lines
I smelt trouble. I was right. Trouble hit me. Hard. The slug would have paid me off if Matt hadn't yelled. 
I was by that time as jumpy as a virgin entering the Tunnel of Love with an all-in wrestler.[The Coolest!]

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Guns of Heaven (Pete Hamill, 1983)

This novel has three parts. At the beginning we join NYC reporter Sam Briscoe landing on the Belfast airport. He's an old school, disillusioned man of the world. Divorced (his wife - of course - couldn't and wouldn't keep up with his lifestyle) with a daughter in some Swiss private boarding school. He is also an IRA supporter and had come to northern Ireland to do an "annual" St.Patrick's day article. His uncle, big IRA shot, arranges him an exclusive interview with the new leader Steel. During this interview Steel gives Sam a mysterious envelope and asks him to deliver it to America. Things begins to accelerate now: we get a first corpse, Sam goes to Switzerland to visit his daughter but he's followed and his life is threatened so he takes his brat to her mother in Spain and then he returns home.

So plot had thickened a lot and we are now in a mighty NYC and we expect (at least I did) that Sam will do some ass kicking journalistic investigation. Unfortunately he doesn't. He's so streetwise that he doesn't really need to. He knows everyone: from well informed ex-junkies, bartenders, cops, fellow reporters, lawyers and even biology professor on Columbia university. So basically he just wonders around asking questions and in the meantime story gets more and more convoluted and hard to follow. Pace drops noticeably; we need to wait for a second corpse until page 109. Oh yeah, he also gets laid three times with a woman he had just picked up in the bar, so there can be no doubt about his coolness.

Third part begins when all this shit becomes just too incomprehensible to follow. It changes from some kind of mystery into some kind of "against the clock" thriller. Besides IRA we also get UVF thrown into the pot plus another fanatical Christan fraction plus FBI plus some arms dealer plus assassination conspiracy and so on. And needles to say, his kid gets kidnapped. There's actually a moment when Sam does Hercule Poirot type of shit explaining whodunit and what the fuck is going on. I read that paragraph twice and still wasn't sure.

Plotting is disastrous but Hamill gets away with it because it's written brilliantly. I mean really, really good! So good that sometimes even hurts the novel because it is so above the simple language and cheap gags usually used in pulp novels (which this still is, make no mistake). Little objection I had was once again this fucking New York fascination/near obsession thing. In every book that takes place in this city, we need to endure all that crap about its history, endless descriptions of the streets, subway stations, jazz, boxing...

But the thing I'll remember Guns of Heaven the most for is total bluntness of author's sympathies for IRA. This was probably a bit strange in the early 80s, but it's quite amazing reading it in post 9/11 world order. Those guys were terrorists, there's no doubt about it. And Hamill does try to be objective (and probably succeeds I think) but at the same time there's no doubt he's not neutral.

So when I checked this guy it came as no surprise that he is reporter with Irish roots, so this explains both quality of writing and his feelings about all that shit that happened in northern Ireland. His  life and career seemed interesting enough to decide to check out something else from him. But not crime novel this time and definitely not stuff about New York! Drinking Life sounds interesting :)

A bit unusual, still enjoyable, personal, thought provoking, entertaining, still relevant.



Sam Briscoe, reporter

Starts briefly in Belfast, moves to Switzerland and then concludes in "...that capital of Satan, Sodom-by-the-Sea, New York City"

Body count: 6

Sheila Rafferty, "A good woman, for a Yank". Marta Torres with whom he has a bit ambiguous relationship, try to figure it out yourself: "I liked her more than anyone I knew. Buit I didn't know what to do about it." And there's also his whining wife and maybe we can count Red Emma (Sam's Jaguar) too.

Once briefly when an explosion destroys near pub. Second one is pretty standard and unoriginal: "A Jagged red scribble went through my eyes, and then there was blackness."

Not really sure about its meaning. Main sub-plot is about one group of fanatics trying to steal large arms shipment from another. Have no idea where/how heaven came into the picture. 

Good as expected from Hard Case crime. But not very accurate - I guess chick is Sheila but the only time she's outside the McDaid's is when pub is blown to pieces by a planted bomb. Her description of that evening matches though: she does have red hair, green blouse, large breasts (for a thin girl).

Cool lines:  
The thin, moustached bartender wore a Pioneer pin on his shirt, a sign that he had taken the pledge never to drink. Such Irishman are prized bartenders on the Irish saloon circuit, but I never trusted them to fix me a drink more complicated than a beer.

I slipped into the scalding hot bath. I jumped, moaned, then settled. The womb.