Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Murderer Vine (Shepard Rifkin, 1970)

This one takes a while to really take off. But it's time well worth waiting because we get to know our hero pretty well. He's a tough, a bit seedy, definitely greedy, small-time, divorce cases type of NYC private dick. Ex-cop with his own sense of justice and morals. Very resourceful and methodological. In short - our kind of a guy, correct? He tells his story in a confession, flashback style from some godforsaken place in South America where he has been hiding since the last job. So we can assume there had been some serious fuck up that made him go into this involuntary exile. So tension is rising nicely, and suspense is built just right by the time he finally arrives in Mississippi.

His assignment is straightforward - he must kill five men responsible for the death of some millionaire's son who was idealistic (crazy?) enough to go deep south into the bible belt as a civil rights worker supporting black people. Surrounding quickly becomes familiar and somehow cliched (local sheriff, big ass politician ass hole etc), but the story's still flowing smoothly. A big problem, in my opinion, becomes the fact that he's too well prepared!  Everything simply goes according to his plan (which was not exactly air-tight in the first place), and this whole thing quickly turns from the mystery/suspense into an ordinary revenge type thriller. There are not many twists, and the main mystery becomes a question of whether our hero will fall in love with his super cool and sexy assistant Kirby.

Don't get me wrong - it's a real page-turner, with some great characters and a dark atmosphere. I liked it a lot but sure did miss a bit more complex storyline. The best thing about it is how the racist aspect gets approached. Before reading it, I must admit I was a bit wary of it being too political and/or depressing (for the lack of a better word). Obviously, it is political, and it does condemn racism, but it still is the foremost hard-boiled thriller that uses these pathetic fucks and their pitiful mindsets to enhance the story and make it more interesting and emotional. Big credit in succeeding this goes to a masterful characterisation of our main hero. When he arrives at that shit-hole of Okalusa, his only interest is earning his money by getting the job done. He initially ignores the racist crap (I loved that little episode on the bus), but towards the end, he "breaks very good rule" by becoming personally involved and "beginning to hate these people".

Smart, well written, dealing with a despicable and dark subject in a pulpy, hard-boiled way. Brave and unusual, especially when considering it was written back in 1970.


Joe Dunne, PI

"What did you expect?" I asked.
"Someone sophisticated yet brutal. And you know what you look like?"
"Sure. A broken-down professional football player ten years after his last game, working as a used-car salesman."

"You are entering Okalusa, Queen City of the cotton kingdom." ... "City limits Okalusa Pop. 28,165 Drive slow We love our children Lions meet Tues. 12:30 Rotary Thurs. 12:30" 

Body count

Dunne's sexy assistant/secretary/undercover wife Kirby

He drinks himself into oblivion, but it's all part of his job: he tries to find out where the bodies are buried. 

A bit melodramatic; vine didn't kill anyone. It's just that three murdered boys were buried under the melon vine. But it is definitely a place to avoid as one of the locals warns our hero: "Theah's plenty dry-lan' moccasins come out of the piny woods an' lie around under the vines waitin' for frogs."

Great pinup illustration by Ken Laager of a hot blonde. But there's no relation to the book. At least I cannot find one.

Cool lines:  
"Wait a minute. You ask for proof that will stand up in court, then you ask for the execution of each one. It doesn't make sense."
"I'm the court."

She murmured in my ear, "Why are we vertical?"
"Shut off the damn shower," she said. "We're not salmon in the spawning season."[The Coolest!]

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