Saturday, April 26, 2014

All Shot Up (Chester Himes, 1959)

Grave Digger came back in a hurry. His face was set.
"Hell's broke loose on the street," he said, poking his arm into the coat Coffin Ed held for him.
"We'd better hop it then," Coffin Ed said.

Just another night in Harlem and another routine assignment for our favorite badass detectives. Two assignments to be precise in two unrelated cases: hit-and-run accident that leaves the victim flattened into a concrete wall (!!) and heist of a local black politician.

Chaotic stuff, fucking bloody mayhem racing relentlessly with a blinding pace. Hard to follow at times (especially at start) but nevertheless immensely enjoyable to read. Story just sticks together and at times it seems that glue that keeps everything from falling apart is violence. It's continuous thread throughout the novel but it's far from some glorified and over the top cheap shit. Very realistic and believable. Witnesses interrogation scene at Paris Bar is simply mind blowing and it (almost) makes that famous bar scene from The French Connection look like it's coming from Disney movie. Crazy stuff, most writers these days would think twice before putting down such politically incorrect police violence and probably no publisher would dare to try selling it.

Enough said, this is beyond good and great, this is simply a masterpiece. Reminded me again that I need to get that Himes' biography written by James Sallis. So many cool books to read, so little time...



Coffin Ed and Grave Digger. 

The story was in Harlem that these two black detectives would kill a dead man in his coffin if he so much as moved.

Mammy Louise swooped down on the dog and dragged it off before he did it injury.
"Not dem, Lawd Jim, mah God, dawg," she cried. "You can't stop dem from goin' nowhere. Them is de mens."

Harlem, New York

Body count
8 and I'm grateful to Mr. Himes to summarize them at the end because it was nearly impossible to keep count in this madness. Victims changing names and identities (even gender on one occasion!), people surviving stabbings and even having a knife stuck in their skull (Brain specialists all over the country had been alerted to the case.)

It's definitely masculine novel, but there are two interesting female characters. A beautiful seductress Mrs. Holmes (Her breast stuck out from a turtleneck blue jersey silk pullover as though taking aim at any man in front of her) and simple, but very street-wise, Roman's girlfriend Sassafras (btw what a cool name, isn't it?!).

You kidding? The whole things happens in mere two days so there's simply no time to pass out for our two bad-asses.

Very appropriate - the whole thing is one big major fucking shoot out!

I like all the covers from the Penguin Himes' reprints and this one is no exception. Once again it catches book's dark and gritty mood. Just not sure who that sinister (or is he scared?) black dude in the front is supposed to be. Casper? Roman? It cannot be the main villain (because he's white).

Cool lines
"One's a white man," Grave Digger said.
"What else?" Coffin Ed replied.
What he meant was what else could keep the black citizens away from the circus provided by killing.

"The rich used to live here," Coffin Ed remarked.
"Still so," Grave Digger said. "Just changed color. Colored rich folks always live in the places abandoned by white rich folks."

They had the feeling that time was rushing past like a maniac with a knife.[The Coolest!]

He ran into a brace of slugs and came reeling back with two sudden eyes in his forehead.[The Coolest!]

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Curious Eat Themselves (John Straley, 1993)

Yet another attempt on putting a new twist on classical PI genre by having a bit unconventional protagonist in some exotic surrounding. We are in cold Alaska and our hero's name is Cecil Younger. He was hired by some unfortunate girl to find the assholes who had raped her but Cecil becomes client-less as early as on the very first page when poor Louise is pulled from the ocean with her throat cut. Promising start, I like it when crime books follow the unwritten rule of having a corpse in the first act. And since we are in Alaska (and since the back cover also hints this) we know that her death will just lead our white knight to some big corporate environmental fuckup.

Which, of course, it does. But things go pretty rapidly from being intriguing to slightly confusing to just simply fucking boring. Cecil basically has no clue about what to do or how to lead a decent investigation. True, he does solve a case of his dead dog, but apart from that he's far from being mover and/or shaker. Basically anyone who has five minutes to spare, from corporate bastards to cops and even his ex-wife, are giving him clues and instructions about what's happening and what's he supposed to do next.

So it soon becomes boring and repetitive. And for several reasons I think. Plot just doesn't move anywhere. An occasional corpse does pop up here and there but in general there's no mystery to be solved. Narration simply goes from point A to point B without any twists and characters are just stereotypical one-dimensional black/white guys. Although it must be said that at least they are not presented as eccentric weirdos in a "Northern Exposure" type of simplified crap.

Interestingly, the thing that really kills the novel's pace is the language used. Very good, rich, at times even poetic but just not focused and tight. Author pays attention to every possible fucking detail and there are pages and pages of some completely redundant (in relation to "crime/mystery" aspect) descriptions. Good example would be the chapter before the last one. We are at the end where things usually start to unfold and tempo shifts a gear or two up. Not in this one: we need to follow three castaways about how they get their shit together by lighting fire, hunting deer, preparing food etc etc. Truly unbelievable anti-climax...

Reminded me a bit of Jean-Claude Izzo. John Straley too seems to have chosen wrong genre for his writing (maybe that's the reason he's into writing poetry these days?). I did like the beginning but then it all became too messy. Don't think I'll check out other books of the series.



Cecil Younger, pretty much an antipode of classical hard-boiled detective: doesn't drink, doesn't carry a gun, lives with a mentally handicapped friend.

All over Alaska. Cecil is based in a small town called Sitka but he's flying around like man obsessed. Was impossible to track him, because even he himself at one point realizes that "I had been in three other airports but I didn't remember which ones."

Body count: 5 + one dog

His ex-wife Hannah

He jumps off the plane that's about to take off and wakes up one day later. 

Tattoo that his ex has on her shoulder. Apparently from a poem "Straw for the Fire" written by Theodore Roethke

A bit wild and certainly unusual for crime novels. Kind of cool, definitely in the spirit of the book but I still prefer classical covers with blondes and guns.

Cool lines:  
I hate being on the wagon. It's like getting my life back but losing one of my senses.

He had a look of a tired day-care worker who wanted to slap the snot out of a kid but knew the parents were watching.