Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Rip-Off (Jim Thompson, 1985)

Legendary Jim Thompson finally gets his debutant and long overdue entry on this blog. The Rip-Off was his last book, published posthumously eight years after his death. I did some googling but I'm still not sure whether it's supposed to be one of those luckily lost & found "masterpieces" or was it simply the case when author hasn't been satisfied enough with the finished product and had decided not to publish it at all. Unfortunately I'm inclined to think that latter was the case especially since he was "re-discovered" in the 80s and probably publishers just wanted to cash-in some of that new and fresh fame.

Story is a bit silly with more than just a single plot hole and some hard-to-swallow coincidences but still kind of okay. It's centered around this quasi intellectual guy Britt Rainstar whose life gets turned upside down when he accepts some pretty odd writing job from a mysterious and beautiful executive Manuela Aloe. A series of bizarre (and life threatening) events starts to unfold and Thompson skilfully mixes them with Britt's background story about his bitchy blackmailing wife and her greedy red neck father. There are some cool twists towards the end and final revelation is kind of surprising.

Writing is as good as one would expect from an old-school master with 20+ masterpieces under his belt. Characters are decent, believable just enough for the most of the times. Especially of our leading hero and maybe not so much about his two female companions. I liked the stuff about his condemned house which at the end becomes a character itself.

Big miss and major let down is style. Not at all gritty, dirty, dark and hard-boiled stuff I expected (see body count section of the facts). At times it's almost comical and these repetitive mood shifts really damage the pace and whole structure of the book. To be honest, towards the end I started to feel a bit ripped off and just wanted to finish it off.

Not sure about this one, it's not bad but certainly not very good. I guess it's okay for Thompson's die-hard fans and completists or academic researchers of his work. I'm neither of these so all I can say is that it reminded me that it's been too long since I've read his stuff. But the next one will be one of his oldies.



Britt Rainstar, age 40. A bit unusual intellectual: he writes in-depth monographs on various unreadable subjects like ecology, ethnology, ethology etc. Native American descendant, living in a condemned house near the garbage dump.

I don't think it's mentioned. But I'm pretty sure that growing pile of garbage in the backyard of his house symbolizes typical modern American town.

Body count
Surprisingly (and disappointingly!) - none. Although justice will be served as two bad guys will get 20 years of prison sentences and one even two life times.

Manuela Aloe: I looked at her - the silver blond hair, the startlingly black eyes and lashes, the flawlessly creamy complexion. I looked around and found it impossible to believe that such a delicious bon bon of a girl would do harm to anyone.

Plus cop/nurse Miss Kate "Kay" Nolson. Plus Connie, his greedy wife who refuses to become an ex-wife. Plus let us not forget his bitchy alcoholic housekeeper Mrs Olmstead.

He gets knocked out all the time. There are no less than four unconsciousness - he gets beat up twice, shot at and pushed down the stairs in a wheelchair.
Not sure. I see several possibilities:
  • Britt is being ripped off by his wife and her greedy father
  • Thompson titled is as a joke reference to his The Kill-Off
  • Titled by the publishers to indicate they ripped us off by selling the book whose author had passed away almost ten years ago.
Pretty standard stuff

Cool lines:  
"Just what happened here, miss? Why was that door locked?"
Manny grinned at her impudently. "A broken-down bed and a locked door, and you ask me what happened? How long have you been a woman, dear?"

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bulldog Drummond (Herman Cyril McNeile aka Sapper, 1920)

"Demobilised officer, finding peace incredibly tedious, would welcome diversion. Legitimate, if possible; but crime, if of a comparatively humorous description, no objection. Excitement essential."

So starts the advertisement that returning WWI war hero Captain Hugo 'Bulldog' Drummond places in the newspapers. He's bored as fuck and seeks some new thrills. It doesn't take long to find one when beautiful young lady answers his ridiculous ad and hires him to investigate sudden radical shift of her father's behavior. Smells like a good old blackmail case and Holmes type of the investigation. 

Well, not really. I forgot to mention the prologue in which some very powerful and sinister people are plotting a conspiracy against the UK and the whole democratic and free (non-communist) world. So to make long story short -

The thing had ceased to be a mere sporting gamble with himself and a few other chosen spirits matched against a gang of criminals; it had become - if his surmise was correct - a national affair. England herself - her very existence - was threatened by one of the vilest plots ever dreamed of in the brain of man.

At this point things go haywire and mystery novel turns into some crazy mix of action romantic espionage thriller. Plot gets more and more bizarre and at times hard to follow especially because story line is so fast paced. There are few sub plots and one concerning kidnapping of a wealthy American business man is integral but another one involving some Duchess' stolen pearls just didn't make much sense to me. Didn't seem to make much sense to our hero either by the way, but he was too busy to clarify it.

It has to be said that characterizations is pretty lame. Everybody are neatly divided into black/white, good/bad guys world and author concentrates mostly on Hugo and his newly found love. This romantic crap is novel's biggest minus but I guess it was mandatory in those old pulps. But still it was a bit difficult to digest that our dear protagonists had fallen madly in love and had agreed to marry just a few days after they have met.

The winner here is definitely a language. The whole thing is written in this crazy arcane language which sometimes leaves you totally puzzled and other times you simply cannot help but to laugh your ass off. Tough dialogs full of wise cracking are delightful too but cherry on the cake for me were hilarious descriptions of chapters! They are all super cool, my favorite would have to be the tenth one "In Which the Hun Nation Decreases by One"

Cool and unusual stuff that has allegedly inspired lots of other crime writers (Fleming's Bond was supposed to be Mike Hammer from the waist down and Bulldog Drummond from the waist up). But I don't think it has aged very well. Still very entertaining to read and to get lost in a time machine for a few days but not so much that I would be tempted to continue with the rest of the series.



Captain Hugo 'Bulldog' Drummond, D.S.O., M.C. - His best friend would not have called him good-looking, but he was the fortunate possessor of that cheerful type of ugliness which inspires immediate confidence in its owner.... A sportsman and a gentleman. And the combination of the two is an unbeatable production. ... The type of men who whom one should kill outright - or leave alone.

He runs the whole operation from his home on Half Moon Street in London but great part of the novel takes place in some kind of an ex observatory (built by a gentleman of doubtful sanity) called Elms in Godalming.

Body count: 5 + one gorilla

Hugo's fiancee Phyllis Benton and Irma who is the best character but at the same time also the most neglected one. True femme fatale!

Yes, two of them. First he and his pals get poisoned by "an ingenious invention of gas" and later he's simply kicked on the head.

Not very imaginative but we can forgive Sapper for that since it is introductory novel to the whole series. But it does have funny reference to the Sappers - "Dreadful barbarians trying to blow up things" 

Nice illustration. But it gives the book darker tone that it actually contains.

Cool lines:  
"On approaching the gate of The Elms, you will render the night hideous with your vocal efforts."

He manifested every symptom usually displayed by the male of the species when awaiting the arrival of the opposite sex. ... "When is this bally train likely to arrive?" He accosted a phlegmatic official, who regarded him coldly, and doubted the likelihood of its being more than a quarter of an hour early.

"I know not what this young man has done: I care less. In Russia such trifles matter not. He has the appearance of a bourgeois, therefore he must die."[The Coolest!]

A Gentleman of slightly inebriated aspect, whose trousers left much to the imagination.[The Coolest!]

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Child 44 (Tom Rob Smith, 2008)

I keep away from thrillers mostly but this one was given to me as a gift by a very special friend so needles to say I had to check it out. Can't say I have something specific against the genre, it's just that I don't have time to go through these formulaic and predictable 500+ pages monstrosities about brutal serial killers, usually "spiced up" by some sinister occult crap which - most often than not - uses exotic historical events for its background.

Child 44 checks all the above requirements with one slight modification - role of Satan is taken over by the communist regime in the former Soviet Union. Orwellian state where twelve years old kids get executed and working people are send to Gulags if they are half an hour late for work. Etc etc etc

In this nightmarish and crime-less surrounding (people are simply too scared to break the laws) our hero needs to hunt down and stop the serial killer of kids. And in the process save his marriage. And face his long buried dark family secret. And naturally re-evaluate his beliefs and loyalty to the communist regime.

By painting this picture of hell on earth more and more intensely, author only succeeds to make it increasingly more boring. And after halfway though, this crap becomes simply laughable. Almost pissed my pants where Raisa tests her hubby's Quo Vadis transformation by suggesting him to kill a peasant who gave them a ride.

Mess of the book that works only as cheap brainwashing propaganda. Insult even to the intelligence of an average airport book-shopper. For the life of me I can't understand why this piece of shit was long-listed for a Man Booker prize.



Leo Demidov, MGB (former KGB) agent

Moscow and some godforsaken village in Urals

Body count:
there's no official police records so we can only trust book's title

Raisa, Leo's wife

He has nightmares about all the innocent people he had killed.

44th murder is the one that kicks off the investigation. At least I think so.

Standard bestseller type of stuff and somehow related to the story as murders do take place along the railroad.

Cool lines
None. Language is most simplistic and on the level of some teenager writing her diary.