Monday, February 24, 2014

The Late Mrs. Five (Richard Wormser, 1960)

Found this paperback in a one-euro bin at a flea market, liked the cover and decided to give it a try. Had never heard of Richard Wormser before so I didn't expect much but was pleasantly surprised.

Not at the start though. It begins as a pretty formulaic tale of wrongly accused man being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not my cup of tea these kind of stories, especially when they take place in some suburban/rural surroundings and when the main protagonist is a traveling salesman. Of course sometimes exception does prove the rule but this one just didn't promise much because the whole plot was based on same pretty incredible coincidence: our hero's ex-wife was killed on the same day when he had arrived to this small town and he didn't even know that she had remarried and moved into that very same small town. I mean - you calculate the odds of this happening yourself...

It soon turns into a man-hunt thriller (only logical turn with such a premise) but then it suddenly becomes quite good and interesting. The thing is that only a handful of characters are introduced and usually this means that it's going to be very easy to pick up our whodunnit guy. But here our prime "bad guy" candidate Mac becomes quite likeable towards the end and the lawyer Lighton - "the good guy" - turns into a greedy bastard (Andy even says that he's like Mephisto in Faust). I'm not saying that this is some heavy shit character study but things (people) are definitely not simply black and white.

Cool stuff. Just like they did it in the good 'ol days - sweet and short and well written (although I did miss some humor and a snappy line or two)!



My name is Paul Porter, I'm vice-president in charge of marketing for Hydrol Machines Inc., a Chicago firm.

Lowndesburg in Lowndes Valley near Chicago. But it's probably imaginary town since Google maps has no idea about it.

Body count: 2

Edith Stayne Porter Hilliard aka Mrs. Five - Paul's ex-wife - "She had been, and in my memory she still was, the most beautiful woman I had ever seen". There's also Andy, a local girl who quickly becomes Paul's new flame.

nope, I can't think of a single one. Which is a bit odd considering all the shit Paul had went through.

Pretty straightforward (but still cool sounding) - Mrs. Five was killed and therefore now she's late Mrs. Five.

Very nice illustration of a hot redhead. I assume she's the late Mrs. Five because "She had the most beautiful legs I've ever seen. And a face that made you dream of a woman without guile, malice or greed. ...It almost surprised you that she had to eat, like other mortals."

Cool lines:  
"Where do you cops get your talk?" I asked. "Is there a course in police school on how to talk tough?"

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Wrong Quarry (Max Allan Collins, 2014)

New Quarry novel is always guaranteed fun but this time it was even more so after going through those two Izzo's books. Ridicullous as it sounds, but even silly shit like the one quoted below was hillarious after those 500+ pages of philosophy and food recipes:

I slid in across of her. "Hope you haven't been waiting long."
"Just long enough to order us a bottle of Chablis. I know you're not supposed to drink red wine with Italian food, but that shit gives me a headache."

*** warning - spoilers ahead! ***

But it's not very good I'm sorry to say, at least not comparing it to some of the other titles of the series. As usual, there are two parts: killing the assassins and discovering the mystery about who ordered the hit. First part is just too routinely executed. Both in the terms of the writing and Quarry's actions. A bit dull and not too imaginative. While this can be overlooked for the killing of the first assassin who is boring antiques dealer, it's very disappointing that asshole torturer's (a guy whose definition of Iron Maiden wasn't a heavy metal band) demise is so swift. Especially after some pretty cool built up to it. Also everything takes a bit long to take off.

Second - detective investigation type - part is a mixed bag. It has some good moments (I didn't see Sally's involvement coming at all) but overall it's pretty unconvincing. I mean, Quarry is just not a detective and I felt a little sorry for a guy walking around this small town pretending to be a newspaper reporter and asking some lame questions. Lowest point of the book is the entire 9th chapter in which our hero goes to a parent-teacher meeting where he interviews bunch of locals. Horrified to say this, but it almost felt like some AC's Poirot/Marple kind of crap...

But still, it's Quarry and it's fun and it's good to see that Mr. Collins still finds time for his amoral anti-hero.



Quarry, in this one he doesn't even use some other fake name.

Imaginary (I think) town Stockwell in Missouri that used to be "buggy whip capitol of America". Owned and ran by Stockwell family. We are back in the early 80s when "Reagan hadn't been president long enough for his senility to show (much), and everybody was hurting from the recessions."

Body count
4 in the present, 24 in the past

Mustang Sally - "Petite but curvy, the kind of cheerleader they reserve for the top of the pyramid." Jenny, a black sheep of Stockwell family - "One fucked-up dangerous damn piece of ass." [Fatale]

Quarry gets beaten by some jealous gigantic footballer (like Moose in the Archie comics, but cartoonier). But just before passing out he manages to kick him hard in the knee and wishing him "good luck with your scholarship, jackass!" Auch! Nasty, but nice one, Quarry ;)

Quarry is a manipulated a bit so his initial quarry is wrong one. No worries though, he makes things right at the end.

Another cool one by Max Phillips. It depicts a scene from the final shoot-out and it's pretty accurate although Mr. Phillips has allowed himself a bit of artistic freedom: Sally should be gagged by SM kind of ball gag and Quarry hadn't had time to draw his gun when he discovered her.

Cool lines:  
We were bonding now - he had said "shit" in front of me and everything.

"What do you mean, exactly... torture?"
I gave him few examples.
"Jesus Christ," he gasped.
"Actually, he did crucify a guy once. Priest who diddled a choir boy who was a mobster's nephew."

His face went white, or as white as the phony tan would allow.

Fifteen minutes passed and they couldn't have seemed longer at an art movie with no nude scenes.[The Coolest!]

"I can't argue with that. Wouldn't be the first time a shrewd killer got away with murder."
And I couldn't argue with that.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Chourmo (Jean-Claude Izzo, 1996)

Let's simply call Chourmo Total Chaos part 2 as it just carries on from where the first one of the Marseilles trilogy has ended. Okay, it is one year later and Fabio is not a cop anymore but everything else has pretty much remained the same. Including - unfortunately - crazy storytelling and incomprehensible plotting. And this time around it just wasn't much fun to read it.

Two stories: Fabio's cousin's teenage kid gets killed and as soon as our ex-cop starts his investigation, his old friend Serge is gunned down right in front of his eyes. Pretty soon mafia gets involved and this time also some Arab militants. I'm still not sure how these two sub-plots are related, but revelation of the first case is so ridiculous that it gives words "coincidence" and "twist" the whole new meanings.

But anyways, Fabio is (a) so full of hatred that he doesn't go to the police because he wants to kill monsters responsible himself and (b) so full of other strong emotions that he feels the need to explain his view of life, philosophy, leftist politics, arts etc. Again and again. Together of course with the complete history of Marseilles, countless food recipes and wine recommendations. And again and again. Plus recapitulation of his lost friendships and love affairs.

It's fucking relentless, this shit never stops. All this mess and lack of direction is quite illustrative in the final "action" scene where Fabio deals with the two assholes who had killed the poor little kid. Instead of (for an example) shooting them from some kind of ambush, he lures them into a car chase. Huh? They are hard-core mafia hit men, but still "My whole plan depended on their making a mistake. A mistake I hoped would be fatal." So now they are driving in the middle of the night like crazy on the narrow hill roads and those two assholes are shooting at our hero and guess with what kind of shit he occupies his thoughts? Well, it's food of course! Obviously the first thing that pops into one's mind when being chased by the mafia killers is poutargue or spaghetti matriciana with red Tempier from Bandol. Or bean soup together with toast drizzled with olive oil. Or maybe stew with marinated meat... And if all this crap wasn't bad enough, let me just finish this by pointing out that he listens to ZZ Top during this ordeal (The only rock band I liked. I needed them.) ZZ fucking Top!?!? Fabio, a couple of hints: in 1996 Sepultura's Roots and Pantera's Great Southern Trendkill came out!

I understand of course that it is character driven with Marseilles once again being a character of its own but it just didn't work for me. Maybe because, after reading the first book, it wasn't so fresh and exciting anymore or maybe because our main man was still pretty dull and a bit of a sissy (btw closing lines are: "That's when I started to cry. God, it felt good.") But mostly I resented total neglect of any creditable storytelling. There are just so many distractions that it seems everything else was more important to the author than to maintain story at least remotely plausible. Still good in its way and (and for the most part) interesting writing but Mr. Izzo had chosen the wrong genre for this one I think. Some heavy shit existential drama would be more appropriate...



Fabio Montale, ex-cop


Body count: 8

His cousin Claudia Cardinale look-alike Gelou (Mature woman, in full blown. The way I like them.) and beautiful and a bit mysterious Vietnamese femme fatale Cuc.

After the car chase he's so exhausted that he passes out. Although not before having a chat with the cops and smoking two cigarettes.

Chourmo, a Provencal word derived from chiourme, the rowers in a galley....The fan club of Massilia Sound System, the craziest bunch of kids around, had taken over the expression... not so much a fan club as a friendship club... So - in short - is a about belonging to and supporting your local community.

Picture of a bay in (I guess) Marseilles. Credited to Emanuele Ragnisco.

Cool lines:  
He was sweating profusely. He stank of death. Shit and death. The two things his life had consisted of. [The Coolest!]

Friday, February 7, 2014

Robbie's Wife (Russell Hill, 2007)

Not much to say about this one. An old American screenplay writer goes to a rural UK countryside in search for muses that would help him create his next masterpiece and put him back on the H'Wood map. He finds one, or better to say, one and THE only one in a shape and form of Maggie, wife of the farmer and B&B owner where Jack wonders by chance one night. Obviously, poor lad's name is Robbie.

Jack falls madly in love with Maggie and from there on you don't need much of an imagination to guess direction where this thing will go to. And it's all about pure LOVE and not much about passion, fucking or even about good old money scheming. No deadly sins here to which we are used in our crime books. To summarize:

"You know that I've fallen in love with you."
"Yes, I know that. And when I'm around you it's as if my nerves are exposed, as if my skin is raw and if you were to come closer to me my body would betray me."

Still, at the beginning I kind of liked it. Jack was introduced as a bit of unstable character and I thought that he would eventually went really fucking mental. I could see lots of possibilities by simply turning him into aging Clint Eastwood type bad-ass, starting with (just an example) kicking the ass of that gypsy (pardon: traveler) blackmailing asshole. It would definitely appeal to Tarantino generation. And although I don't really qualify into that category myself, I know I wouldn't mind some action at all.

But nothing like that happens. I mean, he does get weirder and weirder and acts increasingly more irrational (you see, he's still in love) so "fucking mental" hardly qualifies for his state of mind. I think pathetic is much more appropriate.

It's written decently, but it's simply not my cup of tea I'm afraid. It just drags on and on for ages. To be a bit mean, I would call it "Postman always rings twice for the old people".



Jack Stone, sixty years old movie writer

UK countryside south of London on the farm called Sheepheaven (which btw is a really cool name isn't it?)

Body count: 1

Robbie's Wife Maggie

After the whole ordeal of murder, having his car stolen and being humiliated and extorted by the gipsy, Jack drives back to London and starts drinking heavily in his little hotel room. He then finally passes out which - after all this shit and also considering his not so tender age - is of course totally understandable. 

Couldn't be more direct or appropriate except for maybe choosing simply "Maggie"

Maggie standing in the doorway. Which is a sort of a leitmotif as there are numerous occasions of her in that position (though none that I can remember of when she's dressed so sexy). Decent illustration, credited to R.B. Farrell.

Cool lines
He switched off the tape recorder. "You've been charged, Jack. You might want to learn the rules for cricket."

Monday, February 3, 2014

Total Khéops aka Total Chaos (Jean-Claude Izzo, 1995)

Bad stuff just keeps happening to the police inspector Fabio Montale: his old friend Ugo was killed after avenging the death of their mutual friend Manu, Fabio's platonic love Leila was brutally raped and killed and his not-so-platonic love Marie-Lou was beaten savagely by her asshole pimp. During the routine day our hero also needs to deal with some punk dealer who beat his girlfriend's gay brother. Plus other shit, lots of other shit.

Strangely enough, with his hands full of work, Fabio doesn't really seem to be too eager to get his shit together and to start some proper investigation. He leaves that to his investigating journalist friend and lover Babette(!) and even to the one of the mafia's retired big bosses(!?!). He himself spends most of the time whining about his mid-life crisis, giving us guided tours of Marseilles, sharing some pretty lame philosophy ('ala That's what love is, the possibility of losing) and more than just a few cooking recipes.

Eventually all the above events turn out to be related. Even more, they trigger the gangster war between Marseilles mafia and Camorra from Naples. Total chaos? Definitely! At the end of this thing even our main protagonist himself is so confused that he freely admits that "I couldn't really make heads or tails of it all."

I didn't get some of it also to be honest, but still liked it a lot. Especially the first half is a total page turner. Although it is pretty bleak and at times a bit depressing, it's full of life and genuine emotions. Melancholy, nostalgia, sadness, broken relationships, lost friendships - they give the novel an unique and personal tone so I didn't really mind that story itself was somehow neglected and not very coherent. At least I didn't mind it at the beginning, but slowly all those repetitive digressions (women, food, art, history, politics etc) become quite annoying and even irritating. I'm not saying that it's bad writing because it's actually brilliant one. Sub-plots are fluent and they do develop nicely, it's just that pace is a bit too slow. At least it was for my likening.

Also didn't like Fabio's characterization very much. 20+ years of service and hard life in the army and on the streets should made him more tough (he actually cries at least a couple of times for fuck's sake!) and especially more cynical. There's practically zero humor in this one and most dialogues are unbelievable corny, even Seagal or JCVD would be embarrassed by same of the one liners. Check this one for an example:

"What's the connection?"
"That's what I'm wondering."
"Do you believe in coincidence?"
"I don't believe in anything."


But on the other hand, strictly speaking, Fabio is not exactly our main protagonist here. This honor rather goes to the city of Marseilles. Author seems to be obsessed with this melting pot of cultures and writes about its (mostly) miserable inhabitants with lots of respect and affection. Which is great but what bothered me was this relentless naming of every single fucking street where our hero happens to be. Must be really cool reading this if you know the city but for me it was just one more distraction.

But in spite of everything, it's original stuff. Passionate. And I bought the second one of the trilogy even before finishing this one.



Fabio Montale, a cop

Marseilles. Where cops are playing cowboys. Shoot to kill: that was their basic rule. They followed the General Custer principle that only good Indian was a dead Indian. And in Marseilles, everyone - or almost everyone - was an Indian.

Body count
8 proper corpses + 8 "soldiers" in the gangster war + Fabio's cop partner who dies in the unrelated case (when chasing a Mercedes full of gypsies).

What cards did I have left? Four queens. Babette: friendship found. Leila: a missed opportunity. Marie-Lou: a promise given. Lole: lost but still awaited. Clubs, spades, diamonds, hearts.

Of four of them, I liked Marie-Lou the most I think. "Young West Indian hooker.... A real looker. Like Diana Ross at the age of twenty-two."

Yes, two of them. Both pretty unoriginal: first time he gets beaten to the pulp by the bad guys warning him to stay off the case and second time he faints out of the exhaustion after punching a cop. None of them is described particularly vivid, simply "then everything went black" and "after that, it seems, I fainted".
Refers to either the city of Marseilles or to the inconsistent plot. Also, a song with this title by some hip hop band was mentioned but all I can remember is that their name was an acronym. Any ideas?

Nice retouched picture of (yes, you've guessed it!) Marseilles with appropriate choice of the background color (see body count section above), Credited to Emanuele Ragnisco.

Cool lines
He started to beg. I'd lost all sympathy for him. He disgusted me. I couldn't even stand the thought of slapping him.