Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sideswipe (Charles Willeford, 1987)

Another highly enjoyable ride full of thrills and quirky characters with my new best friend Hoke Moseley. It continues from where New Hope for the Dead has finished. Hoke now lives together with pregnant Ellita Sanchez and his two teenage daughters but for some reason he has just had enough. It could be the pile of cold cases at work or simple case of midlife crisis. Willeford thankfully doesn't even bother to tell us what exactly has made him so fed up with the world. One morning he simply suffers a nervous breakdown (I think) so he decides that he needs to simplify his life. He moves to small tourist resort and starts managing his father's small motel.

But there will be crime of course. Because parallel to Hoke's story we follow formation of a very peculiar gang, weird even by Willeford's high standard of craziness. Its leader Troy with reptilian looks is self proclaimed criminal psychopath who in prison befriends an elderly Stanley. Also psychopath but not yet criminal one, as for the time being he seems to be happy enough by occasional dog poisoning. These two men form some kind of weird father/son homosexual relationship and are joined by Troy's hot ex-stripper girlfriend with disfigured face and failed abstract artists.

Sideswipe feels like a combination of the first two Hoke's novels. Structure of mixing his personal story and gang preparing for a job is almost identical to the one from Miami Blues and little episodes concerning his daughters keep the tone similar to New Hope for the Dead. There's once again a mandatory minor case that Hoke solves along the way. There's a robbery in the local hotel and he helps the police force to find the thief.

Troy's gang is so colorful and such an insane bunch of characters that it almost threatens to steal the entire show from Hoke at times. Sometimes I could almost sense that Willeford was aware of that and that he would react by giving his hero some additional storyline to prove that he still is the main man. One of the novel's highlights is the episode where Hoke promptly ships his daughter to her mother on the first plane to L.A. immediately after he learns that she has some weird medical problems (bulimia) and doesn't have a clue how to deal with it. And she's accompanied by some lowlife teenager that Hoke has just met 10 hours before. She informs his wife that she's a trained nurse and to make sure they would stay together he even handcuffs both girls together!

Don't like to repeat myself, but this is truly great stuff. Simple and effective. Funny but also ugly at times. Full of black humor but also compassion.

And maybe it also comes with a message. Is life even possible to be simplified?



Sergeant Hoke Moseley

Miami and Ocean Mall where Hoke is recuperating and trying to simplify his life.

Body count: 6 (+one baby in the past)

Possibly Ellita Sanchez and questionably disfigured Dale Forrest, once Miss Bottlecapping Industry of Daytona Beach. And Hoke's daughter Sue Ellen is on the right track to become a real babe - she had grown a green mohawk and went to see Dead Kennedys gig (ticket costing 35$!!?).

None, unless we count that weird nervous breakdown.

Another intriguing one that escapes my understanding. Did check few online dictionaries but couldn't find anything relevant. Any suggestions?

Nice and in the same style as the rest of Penguin reprints of Hoke Moseley novels. Maybe a little to similar to Miami Blues.

Cool lines:  
Like mentioned, Hoke is still our main man, but this time I will use cool lines to let Troy explain his complex personality:

I'm a professional criminal, what the shrinks call a criminal psychopath.[The Coolest!]

What it means is, I know the difference between right and wrong and all that, but I don't give a shit. That's the official version. Most men in prison are psychopaths, like me, and there are times - when we don't give a shit - when we act impulsively.
- I don't have time to go into all of the ramifications of my personality, it's too complex. I've been tested again and again, and it always comes out the same. Psychopath. And because I'm a criminal, I'm also a criminal psychopath. You follow me?
- Yeah, I think so. But if you aren't crazy, what are you?
- It's what I told you already. I know the difference between good and bad, but it makes no difference to me. If I see the right thing to do and want to do it, I do it, and if I see the wrong thing and want to do it, I do that too.
- You mean you can't help yourself then?
- Certainly I can. I'll put it another way. I can help myself, but I don't give a damn.
- And because you don't give a damn, you're a criminal psychopath, is that it?
- You've got it.
- But why don't you give a damn?
- Because I'm a criminal psychopath. Maybe, when they give you some tests, you might could be one, too.

Smoking comforts ordinary men, but I'm not an ordinary man. There aren't many like me left. And it's good thing for the world that there isn't. There'll always be a few of us in America, in every generation, because only a great country like America can produce men like me.I'm not a thinker, I'm a doer. I'm considered inarticulate, so I talk a lot to cover it up. [The Coolest!]

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Badge of Evil (Whit Masterson, 1956)

Book on which my favorite Orson Wells movie Touch of Evil is based on. To be perfectly honest I had no idea that movie was even based on a book until back blurb on this one caught my attention in the bookstore. And since I'm obviously not Orson's die hard fan, I do must admit that he did one hell of a job on his screenplay. One of those rare occasions where the movie is much better than the original book.

It's simply not hard boiled enough. Story about dirty cops set in police stations and DA office should be driven by strong characters and sharp dialogues moving forward with a speed of light. Smoking, drinking, cursing, fighting etc etc etc. Or at least be solid police procedural. Instead we get predictable "one against all, good against evil" tale of the white knight fighting for the ungrateful lady Justice against flawed system orchestrated by the weak politicians and compromised media.

And family shit, lots of it. Mitch's wife Connie is so pure, cool, beautiful, full of understanding and dedication for her hubby that she doesn't even bitch too much about their ever postponed family vacation. I don't think that any of authors had seen Fritz Lang's masterpiece The Big Heat released few years prior. Because if they did, I think Connie would (should) be blown into the pieces sometimes at the end of the first act making Mitch go on bloody revenge rampage. But nothing like that happens - our hero is confused and scared most of the times and gets lucky break at the end.

Also didn't like the writing style much. Too technical and formulaic so it never really takes off. Once the McCoy's evidence fixing is established as a fact, plot becomes almost non-existent and the whole thing shifts into boring drama/thriller mode. Hard to say, but my speculation would be that maybe these kind of narration problems can occur as a result of collaboration of two writers working on the same book.

Decent enough stuff that unfortunately hasn't aged very well. But still immensely cool to read it if you like Touch of Evil. Totally incredible how Wells managed to turn this unquestionably original, but somehow mediocre novel into a timeless mastepriece.



Mitch Holt, 35, assistant district attorney

He knew that soon he would be in a position to open his own private practice without unduly endangering the eating habits of his family.

Some big town in southern California near the Mexican border. I assume that would be San Diego (it's definitely not LA) but probably authors were vague about this intentionally to emphasize metaphor about corruption and weak legal system across the whole America.

Body count: 4 (2 suicides)

None really. His whining wife Connie hardly counts for a dame.

Blackouts: /

Obviously it alludes to McCoy but I would hardly categorize a poor bastard as an evil one. He was merely an overworked asshole with a god complex. And since the title "Badge of an overworked asshole with a god complex" really does sound stupid, let's not bitch about it too much.

Good old fashioned one, like all covers of Prologue Books are. Maybe it would be cool to put little figures of Holt, McCoy and Quinlan into the web.

Cool lines:  
To be a successful prosecutor was the same as being a successful salesman or a successful preacher. You had to believe in your product.

He settled for a stubby .32 pistol that had both convenience and authority.

The bullet tugged at the lapel of  Holt's coat in passing and then went on its way with a complaining whine of having missed.[The Coolest!]

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Vengeful Virgin (Gil Brewer, 1958)

I knew I'd never get enough of her. She was straight out of hell.

Shirley and I generated something together that drowned out conscience. This was just something we were going to do together. And, of course, the money. I wanted it. I would get it.

Shirley Angela was under my skin like the itch and it was going to take a lot of scratching.

He was ready to die. He was old enough. He sure as hell was rich enough.

Doom. You recognize doom. It's a feeling and a taste, and it's black, and it's very heavy. It comes down over your head, and wraps tentacles around you, and sinks long dirty fingernails into your heart. It has a stink like burning garbage. Doom.

Boy meets girl. They are both young, horny and greedy and the only thing standing between them is the girl's rich stepfather. Sounds like a postman is ringing twice, doesn't it? Feels almost like heresy writing this, but in many ways this one is even better than Cain's famous masterpiece.

Basically we know the whole plot (and its ending) after reading just a first few pages. But what Brewer manages to pull off masterfully is the immense build-up of the tension and suspense as we dive deeper into the vortex approaching the inevitable doom of our condemned lovers.

And the trick is that in this crime book there will be no mystery! There are some characters introduced (Victor's doctor, Shirley's horny neighbor, Jack's ex girlfriend) that could (and normally would) form some sort of alliance with one of our protagonists in order to double cross the other. No such thing here, final big twist is basically nothing more than lack of any twist.

And Jack himself - as one would expect from the TV fixer-upper - is pretty lousy killer. To be honest, he's total amateur! He even prepares a list of all the possible fuck ups and then forgets to destroy it so it can be found by the cops when they search his apartment. He also has second thoughts about the whole thing and is prepared to call it off  (He'd croak natural, and everything would be perfect). But of course there's no way out, the greed got hold of him and he's doomed.

Great stuff, just don't expect intriguing story full of twists and sub-plots centered around some colorful anti-hero. Without a question, still pure pulp with both sex and violence pretty graphic and disturbing ending but this is for me foremost a sad, cold and intense book about the dark places in our souls and addictions in our heads.



Jack Ruxton, TV repair man and owner of a small electronics shop.

Miami. But it doesn't really play any significant role except for one occasion when our hero is in the water and gets concerned about the alligators.

Body count: 3

Shirley Angela, confused and horny combination of femme fatale and damsel in distress. Her neighbor Mayda Lamphier (nervous type, and loud). Jack's neurotic ex-girlfriend Grace.

None, but there's a funny description of the nightmare where Jack is chasing Mayda through an endless living room full of TV sets. 

Obviously - and without some major spoilers - it refers to Angela. And the second part is a kind of a twist.

Cool and very hot! By Gregory Manchess. But not 100% accurate - although there is a scene involving piles of money and fire and naked (not just in underwear!) chick with a gun. And for some reason two empty whiskey bottles are missing.

Cool lines:
Not many of witty one-liners or cool descriptions here. It goes as far as "The language she used would have shamed a drunken Marine"