Monday, September 23, 2013

City Primeval (Elmore Leonard, 1980)

The last one of the grandmasters is gone. Not exactly tragic considering his age and recent health problems but still very sad. But fuck it - this is a hard-boiled blog so instead of whining about it, I gave my respect to the main man by reading some of his brilliant stuff. Just went to the bookstore and picked up the book with the coolest cover (not easy task at all thanks to Tim Marrs) that I haven't read yet.

Starts very originally and very funny by quoting the report of "Investigation of the Judicial Tenure Commission" against the judge Alvin B. Guy. Hilarious reading! We know all about Leonard's crazy characters (and love them all!) but it needs to be said that this guy ranks high in his weirdness top ten chart. In short - he's even bigger asshole than Maximum Bob.

It's too bad he doesn't last very long though because he gets killed right away in the next chapter by the mandatory psycho. In City Primeval this honor belongs to 'Oklahoma Wildman' Clement Mansell who "likes to live dangerously and likes to kill people". He's an okay psychopath/sociopath but my problem with him was that I just couldn't decide whether I liked him or not. Which is not necessary bad thing, right?

But did have a much bigger problem with our hero detective Raymond Cruz who gets assigned on judge's murder investigation. Won't go into his family shit or macho bullshit or psychological crap, let's just say that he's simply not very convincing or interesting.

So after super promising judge asshole we are left with a mediocre villain and dull policeman. Plus the usual partner (btw Hunter is also cool but totally underused!), hot blonde pot-head bimbo, hot bitchy criminal lawyer and some shady underworld figures with ridiculous names (like Skender Lulgjaraj for fuck's sake!). Decent cast, but not great. At least not in Elmore Leonard world.

Major flaw is the story and lack of good plot. Which is even more obvious since the whole thing is basically character driven so its foundations are not very strong to begin with. After the furious start (car chase, followed by the double killing) it just doesn't move anywhere. It gets stuck somewhere between character study and standard police procedural. Instead of some new events being introduced, Cruz falls for Carolyn and shit like that.

There was a moment though when I had hoped that pace was about to finally shift a gear up. When Albanian gangster Toma arrives at the scene it's pretty obvious that he's a mean bastard who'll make things happen. Check out his exchange of Steven Seagal like bad-ass one-liners with Raymond:

You do what you have to do, I do what I have to do.
No, it's not that simple, because I want him too.
You always look in their eyes?
If there's time.
It takes time.
No, it doesn't. Tell me where to find him. It takes only a few minutes.

A bit silly, but still cool. But it just goes on for too long and becomes tedious game of whose dick is bigger. But must admit that conclusion is cool because Hunter simply comments that "Fucking Albanians are crazy"

It is funny, there's some sex and some action so even though it turns into a predictable thriller towards the end, it is still very enjoyable reading right until the final showdown. Without giving away too much, let's just say I didn't choose the word showdown as a metaphor. I will admit I didn't see it coming in spite of warning signs (Gregory Peck) so both the ending and the final twist were surprising. But unfortunately I was just surprised how bad maestro has finished the novel.



Homicide Detective Raymond Cruz


Body count: 3

Sandy - Not the type, at first glance, some management consultant would keep in his stylish apartment. But look again and see fun in her eyes. It gave a man feeling that if he turned her little motor on she'd whirl him back to his youth and take him places he'd never been.

Carolyn Wilder - Prosecuting attorneys referred to her as the iron cunt. [Fatale]

Blackouts: /

Cool sounding, but not very accurate in my opinion as Detroit city doesn't play significant role. Probably "Primeval Justice" would be more appropriate considering American wild west sense of punishment. 

Super cool collage of the city, car and Raymond in front. Done by Tim Marrs who's also author of other Leonard's book published by Orion. Somehow ruined by Ian Rankin's cover blurb but luckily enough, my copy has one from New York Times (An entertainer who can write circles around almost anyone) so it is merely damaged and not entirely ruined.

Cool lines
Better to take an extra twenty seconds to be sure than to do twenty years in Jackson.[The Coolest!]

Jesus, the man had nerve. ... Men with nerve died like anyone else if shot in the right place.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Four Novellas of Fear (Cornell Woolrich, 1936 - 1940, republished in 2010)

Reading The Vengeful Virgin got me a little nostalgic and in a perfect mood to read this short collection of four Woolrich stories republished recently. It has been sitting on my shelf for a few months just waiting for the right moment.

As expected, not much of the asphalt jungle's bright city lights here with cynical detectives investigating complex plots involving dirty politicians blackmails or addicted celebrities doing porn flicks. These are simple stories about everyday people who are driven by simple pleasures and whose actions are motivated by the most basic instinct and feelings. Although fear is mentioned in the collection's title, I would say that greed is their most common theme.

Eyes That Watch You (1939)
Nasty and pretty hard-boiled one even though its protagonist is an old handicapped lady who cannot even speak. She overhears her daughter in-law plotting murder of her son but she's (obviously) powerless to do anything about it. Everything takes place in this old secluded house which gives a novel great tone. Thing I liked the most about it was great suspense. Woolrich plays kind of cat and mouse game with his characters (and of course with us) and just when you think that poor sucker might get away, he actually gets killed. Nice!

Good story, masterfully written and executed - my favorite of the collection. It's such a good material that I find it a bit surprising it has never been made into a movie. Especially since (according to Wikipedia) Woolrich has had more books adopted into film noirs than any other authors of that era.

The Night I Died (1936)
Greed again. And plot of killing a close family member again. It even starts similarly as Eyes That Watch You by our hero over-hearing sinister conspiracy about killing him. And once again is his greedy spouse, but in this one he manages to escape the dark demise that she had arranged for him. But unfortunately in the process he crosses the line to the dark side becoming greedy, violent and paranoid asshole himself. Cool stuff and good combination of hard boiled story and psychological drama.

You'll Never See Me Again (1939)
Good opening line (It was the biscuits started it) that implies that once again there will be family trouble. Not murder this time (at least not yet), but classic plot with inexplicable wife disappearing and her hubby frantically trying to find her while becoming a prime suspect himself in the process. Fast paced page turner at the beginning but unfortunately in the second half it dissolves into standard and predictable "run against the time" type thriller. With 70 pages (and only one corpse!) this is the longest entry of the collection and also in my opinion its weakest. Good story but plotting towards end somehow didn't work for me, some stuff was pretty hard to believe.

Murder Always Gathers Momentum (1940)
Excellent and very promising title that indeed delivers (see body count section below!). This one is not so much about money or greed, it's more about cowardice and how it sucks our anti-hero into a spiral of crime. Actually pretty sad and you really feel bad and sympathetic for the poor sucker. Reminded me of Mickey Rooney in Quicksand. Minus happy end (thank god!) plus cool final twist.



Various small towns

Body count: 1 + 1 + 1 + 6

I think it's safe to say that only Vera from Eyes that Watch You qualifies as a dame:

She came, the murderess, in pink satin and foamy lace, like an angel of destruction, stroking her loosened hair with a silver-backed brush.  [Fatale]

Cool sounding, but I think it would be more suitable to replace fear with greed.

Super eerie photo, unfortunately uncredited. This journey into the darkness with meaningless speed limit is relevant to all four stories.

Cool lines:  

Eyes That Watch You:

- Are you sure everything's shaped up right?
- Yeah. He's insured up to his ears. All his stock's been bought in my name. The business has been doing pretty good, and there are no other relatives to horn in.

They exchanged a kiss. A blood-red kiss of death. 

The Night I Died

Then we turned in, one to a bed. "I'm dead," was the last thing he yawned.
"You betcha sweet life you are, brother!" I thought grimmly.

Murder Always Gathers Momentum 

He kept buying off time with bullets.[The Coolest!]